PAXTON — The father of a 30-year-old Hoopeston man who was found dead in his cell at the Ford County Jail last May has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the county, its sheriff and two jail employees.
The seven-count lawsuit was filed last Thursday in U.S. District Court in Urbana by Chicago attorney Janine L. Hoft, representing Arthur Gonzalez and the estate of his late son, Richard J. Gonzalez.
Richard Gonzalez, 30, was an inmate at the Ford County Jail when he was found dead in his cell by correctional officers on May 23, 2012. Ford County Coroner Doug Wallace last year that Mr. Gonzalez's death was caused by cardiac arrhythmia, adding that a contributing factor was a fracture of his right scapula due to a fall. Wallace ruled the death an accident.
The lawsuit alleges that correctional officers "failed and/or refused" to provide Mr. Gonzalez with proper medical treatment for "serious medical needs" and instead locked him in a solitary padded cell. The lawsuit further alleges that jail staff conspired to cover up the circumstances surrounding Mr. Gonzalez's death.
The suit seeks unspecified monetary damages on behalf of Mr. Gonzalez's estate. Named as defendants are Ford County, Sheriff Mark Doran and two jail employees, whose names were not immediately known.
Doran declined to comment on the lawsuit Tuesday because he had not yet been served.
The lawsuit says Mr. Gonzalez was taken into custody at the Ford County Jail on May 15, 2012, and was awaiting transfer to the Illinois Department of Corrections when he was found dead about 4 a.m. May 23. He had been sentenced on May 14 to four years in prison for stealing $3,000 from a Paxton bank through a fraudulent ATM transaction.
On May 18, 2012, Mr. Gonzalez suffered a "serious medical need," the lawsuit says, and county employees took him to a nearby emergency room for treatment. Later that day, they returned him to the jail, the suit says.
The coroner said last year that the injury to Mr. Gonzalez's shoulder area — which contributed to his death — occurred May 18. Wallace said the injury occurred when he fell off a table while talking on a phone in a six-person cell block. Wallace said the shoulder fracture put additional stress on Mr. Gonzalez's heart, contributing to the cardiac arrhythmia.
Doran said last year that Mr. Gonzalez had been evaluated by medical staff.
Meanwhile, the lawsuit says Mr. Gonzalez "continued to experience serious medical needs" after being brought back to the jail — including pain and being provided ineffective prescription medication — but jail staff refused or failed to provide him with treatment, instead locking him in a solitary padded cell.
"Defendants knew that Richard suffered physical injury and experienced other serious medical and mental health needs and either participated in causing this injury, failed to prevent this injury, and/or failed to respond and adequately treat and care for Richard," the lawsuit alleges.
The suit also alleges that Doran and his officers deliberately turned a "blind eye" to "deficiencies in the (jail's) policies, practices, customs and procedures concerning detainees."
The suit also says Doran and his staff conspired to commit "the manipulation and alteration of false and totally unreliable evidence regarding the circumstances leading to and culminating in the death of Richard, and covering up the circumstances after Richard's death."
Their conduct, the suit added, has caused Mr. Gonzalez's family "severe emotional distress."