Montana Commission Finds Two Counties Liable For $1.35M In Inmate’s Alcohol Withdrawal Death

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Two Montana counties are challenging the Montana Human Rights Commission’s ruling that they have to pay $1.35 million after an 18-year-old teen died of alcohol in a Havre jail cell in 2009. The MHRC ruled that Hill County and Blaine County displayed discriminatory indifference toward the alcohol withdrawal symptoms of Native American teen Longsoldier and that they were liable for the emotional distress he suffered in jail before he died.

When Longsoldier was being housed at the Hill County Detention Center for contempt of court, a deputy received a written prescription for medications but did not get them. Longsoldier began having dry heaves and then started to hallucinate. His problems lasted for about 20 hours before he was finally taken to a hospital where he died about two hours later.

The MHRC said the counties were liable for the “continued failure to obtain and administer physician-ordered medications to Longsoldier, as directed” and they were responsible for the suffering he incurred during his 27 hours in jail, The Billings Gazette reported.

“The discrimination was demonstrated by the deliberate indifference of law enforcement regarding Longsoldier’s prescriptive medications, which resulted in law enforcement’s failure to obtain and administer the medications ordered by the Northern Montana Hospital emergency room physician,” the commission wrote in its decision.

The Commission also ordered Blaine County and Hill County to provide training for all law enforcement and detention officers about the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal and the best ways to care for those symptoms.

Lawyers for both counties were not pleased with the Commission’s decision.

“The proceedings before the Commission in this matter were of such irregularity, and violated established procedure, to a degree that it shocks the conscience and deprived this Petitioner of even a modicum of fundamental fairness,” wrote Mark Higgins, an attorney for Blaine County.

Sources: The Billings Gazette, The Independent Record