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Officials face lawsuit in inmate's death

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By The Staff

By CINDY SIMPSON

rccindysimpson@bellsouth.net

A lawsuit against the Roane County Jail and county officials in the 2000 death of an inmate has been cleared to go to trial.

A federal appeals court ruled Friday that correctional officers, paramedic Duranda Tipton and Dr. Thomas Boduch can all be held liable in the death of 29-year-old Sonya Denise Phillips.

Phillips was in the Roane County Jail awaiting trial on charges of first-degree murder in the death of her infant child.

The newborn child’s body was found on Bazel Road in Harriman about a year before the mother’s death.

“Examiners determined her cause of death to be diabetes-ketoacidosis, or untreated diabetes,” according to records filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth District.

The appeals court reversed the denial of qualified immunity to former county executive Ken Yager, former sheriff David Haggard, county ambulance service director Gloria Wright and Howie Rose, in his capacity with the ambulance service. Those officials cannot be held liable in the case.

Dan C. Stanley, attorney for Carolyn Phillips, Sonya’s mother, said he is glad that they can continue working toward a trial by jury.

“They’ve done everything they can to delay it,” Stanley said. “There is nothing left to do but let a jury decide it.”

“It’s a totally inadequate jail,” he added. “Everyone knows it.”

The lawsuit alleges that “deliberate indifference to a serious medical need” caused Phillips’ death.

The health issues that may have led up to Sonya Phillips’ death began much earlier.

On Nov. 24, 2000, officers found her unconscious in her cell. She was not breathing and had no detectable pulse, according to court records.

By the time an ambulance arrived, she was conscious but inmates noticed she walked very slow, was swollen and had a purple tone to her skin, court records state.

Tipton asked then-jail captain Fay Hall if Phillips should be taken to the emergency room for evaluation.

Records state that Hall said Phillips should be left in the jail if she was not in distress.

Hall has since died.

The appeals court background records state that Phillips’ condition continued to deteriorate.

On Nov. 27, she filed a medical request complaining of chest pain, numbness and dizziness. She said she needed to see a doctor as soon as possible.

On Nov. 29, records state, “Boduch, a contract doctor with the Roane County Jail, gave Phillips a brief examination in which he saw her for a total of six minutes. According to Dr. Boduch, Phillips reported that all her previous symptoms had disappeared except for knee pain,” court papers say.

However, her mother said fellow inmates who observed Phillips’ condition describe things differently.

On Dec. 4, another medical request was filed with complaints of nausea, constipation and a possible kidney infection.

When Boduch made his weekly visit, Phillips was at a previously scheduled psychiatric appointment. He reviewed her chart, prescribed antibiotics and ordered a urinalysis.

However, he did not follow up with Phillips or confirm the test had been completed, records state.

A few days later she was put in a holding cell for medical observations, according to court records

When she complained of the same symptoms, water to the cell was turned off so they could prove her claims.

On Dec. 8, Phillips was found on her cell floor with an injury to her lip.

Later that day, Hall contacted Ridgeview psychiatric hospital to see if she was overly medicated, records say.

“At approximately 5:20 p.m., officers again found Phillips unconscious; this time they could not revive her. After being transported to the Roane County Medical Center, Phillips was pronounced dead,” the records said.

The suit was filed within 12 days of her death.

The court was hearing the appeal by the defendants, including Yager, Haggard, a list of correctional officers, Wright, Tipton and Boduch.

The appeal court opinion was on whether the district court properly denied qualified immunity to officials.

The court affirmed the denial of qualified immunity to county correctional officers, Tipton and Boduch.

The court reversed the denial of qualified immunity for Yager, Haggard, Wright and Rose.

County attorney Tom McFarland said the county may ask the appeals court in Cincinnati to further hear the case.

The appeal came after the lower court denied motions by the defendants for summary judgment claiming qualified immunity.