News Release from Johnson, Johnson, Lucas and Middleton attorneys and Gresham Injury Law Center
A settlement was reached between the family of Bradley Thomas and Lincoln County for $2.85 million. On April 8, 2015, Thomas died of significant dehydration and starvation while in the care and custody of the Lincoln County Jail.
Middleton and Melville filed the civil rights lawsuit against Lincoln County on behalf of Thomas’ family and estate on April 1, 2016. The lawsuit alleged jail staff failed to provide Thomas with medical care or medication despite documenting his increasingly odd behavior and loss of ability to walk or even speak. “Jails and prisons throughout the state increasingly have to manage people struggling with mental illness. That includes providing appropriate medical care, not just locking them up and ignoring the problem,” Middleton said. “This case shows there is a price to pay when jails treat the mentally ill as disposable.”
Thomas was booked into the Lincoln County Jail on March 23, 2015, on misdemeanor allegations. It was immediately obvious that Mr. Thomas had severe mental health issues. At times, Thomas was observed throwing food, smearing feces in his cell, even licking feces off the walls. His water was turned off, he quit eating and drinking. He was not taken to the hospital to get help. At the end, he could no longer even ask for help.
In early April 2015, a Lincoln County Health & Human Services mental health investigator testified that Thomas was bi-polar, couldn’t fend for himself and could harm others. He was committed to the state hospital for 180 days. That night, jail staff observed Thomas lying naked on the cold floor beside his bunk. Jail staff failed to call mental health services or provide any emergency response. The next morning, Thomas was found dead in his jail cell alone. It was a long and solitary death.
“I am angry that my son died naked and alone,“ said Catherine Thomas, Thomas’s mother. “Nobody should have to die like that.”
“Justice and accountability are core principles in our society. Lincoln County’s payment represents their accountability and is the only form of justice our system provides,” said Tom Melville. “We hope this case is a message, not only to Lincoln County, but all of Oregon’s jails, that ‘care and custody’ actually means that the basic needs of the weakest and most vulnerable are met.”
As Thomas’ younger brother, Ron Thomas, said at the beginning of this case: “Being mentally ill should not come with a death sentence in Lincoln County.”
In the past few months, Lincoln County Commissioners have launched a new program called Stepping Up which is gaining acceptance around the region to ensure that those who don’t really belong in jail are not jailed – most of whom have serious mental illness as suffered by Bradley Thomas. The county commissioners and County Counsel Wayne Belmont have enthusiastically embraced the process of adopting the program in Lincoln County whereby obviously mentally disturbed or drug-intoxicated persons are not just warehoused in the jail but are given the help they need in a more humane and supportive environment. Sheriff Curtis Landers also points out that the rising influx of mentally troubled inmates are literally pushing serious criminals out of their cells and back onto the streets due to jail capacity problems.
The county is very busy revamping the way it handles mentally ill and drug addicted inmates.