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The Estate of Roy C. Ashford v. Mississippi Department of Corrections

February 28, 2011

THE ESTATE OF ROY C. ASHFORD, BY AND THROUGH TERELL ASHFORD, ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF ROY C. ASHFORD AND TERELL ASHFORD, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF ALL THE WRONGFUL DEATH BENEFICIARIES OF ROY C. ASHFORD, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
MISSISSIPPI DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS; CHRISTOPHER EPPS, COMMISSIONER OF THE MISSISSIPPI DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS; OKTIBBEHA COUNTY, MISSISSIPPI; OKTIBBEHA COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT; DOLPH BRYAN, SHERIFF OF OKTIBBEHA COUNTY, MISSISSIPPI; RICK SHARP AND ROBERT ELMORE, DEPUTY SHERIFFS OF OKTIBBEHA COUNTY, MISSISSIPPI; AND JOHN DOES 1-25, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: W. Allen Pepper, Jr. United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter comes before the court on Defendants Dolph Bryan, Rick Sharp, and Robert Elmore's motion [10] to dismiss the plaintiffs' claims against them in their individual capacities under the doctrine of qualified immunity. After due consideration of the defendants' motion and the responses filed thereto, the court is prepared to rule.

I. BACKGROUND INFORMATION

On October 17, 2006 Roy Ashford was arraigned by the Circuit Court of Oktibbeha for selling a controlled substance. On that same date, Mr. Ashford pled guilty. Thereafter, Mr. Ashford reported to the VA hospital for treatment for his drug addiction and he was prescribed medicationfor delirium tremens, or for the DTs.

On Tuesday, October 24, 2006 the Circuit Court sentenced Mr. Ashford to 1 year, with 2 years post-release supervision, and a $100.00 fine. During this sentencing hearing, Mr. Ashford's attorney advised the Court that Mr. Ashford was on a significant amount of medication, including hydrocodone, and that he had given the medication to Oktibbeha Deputy Sheriff Robert Elmore who was in the courtroom. The Circuit Court stated, in the presence of Deputy Elmore, that the sentencing order should mention that Mr. Ashford had serious health issues. It is undisputed that the sentencing order stated that Mr. Ashford "has serious health issues which need to be addressed by the MDOC. Defendant's medication has been provided to the Oktibbeha County Sheriff's Office to be sent to MDOC." It is not alleged, however, that Deputy Elmore saw a copy of the sentencing order.

After the sentencing hearing, Deputy Elmore escorted Mr. Ashford across the street to drop him off at the Oktibbeha County Jail. Mr. Ashford was to stay at the county jail until his transfer to the Mississippi Department of Corrections, some time around November 2, 2006 -- some 9 days after entering the county jail. After arriving, Deputy Elmore handed the jailers Mr. Ashford's medication. While processing Mr. Ashford into the jail, the medical form reveals that Mr. Ashford stated that he was currently taking medications, that he was under a doctor's care, that he had recently been hospitalized, and that he had health problems that the jail needed to know about.

On Wednesday, October 25, 2006 Deputy Sheriff Rick Sharp, the administrator of the Oktibbeha County Jail, received a call from Jailer Kathleen Odneal that Mr. Ashford was likely in DTs and that he needed to be moved from general population to an individual cell for monitoring. Deputy Sharp gave permission and Mr. Ashford was moved to the individual cell shortly thereafter.

On Thursday, October 26, 2006 approximately three jailer reports noted that Mr. Ashford was experiencing DTs. Two of these jailer reports were largely identical, one stating that Mr. Ashford was "not eating or taking meds (Need to see doctor") and the other stating he was "not eating or taking meds (Need to see doctor if continue not eating and taking meds)." Also on this day, the medication log notes that Mr. Ashford was in DTs and that he was given meds but did not sign the form.

On Friday, October 27, 2006 the jailer's notes stated: "R. Ashford shaking very bad -- seeing things"; "Mr. Ashford took meds but was shaking so bad he could not sign [the medical form]"; and "Roy Ashford is refusing meds and doesn't want to eat anything." The medication chart states that at 3:00 a.m. he "[t]ook meds but was unable to sign." At 11:00 a.m., Mr. Ashford refused to take meds and "did not want tray for lunch." In the 4:30 p.m. slot, the medication chart states that Mr. Ashford refused meds and "did not want tray for supper or medication."

On Saturday, October 28, 2006 Mr. Ashford was found deceased in his cell. An autopsy later revealed that the cause of death was seizure from having DTs.

Dolph Bryan, Sheriff of Oktibbeha County; Deputy Elmore, the officer who transported Mr. Ashford from Circuit Court across the street to the jail on October 24, 2006, and Deputy Sharp, the jail administrator have all moved to dismiss the plaintiffs' claims against them in their individual capacity, arguing they are protected by the doctrine of qualified immunity.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Qualified Immunity Standards

The court must conduct a two-step analysis to determine whether defendants Dolph Bryan, Rick Sharp, and Robert Elmore in their individual capacities are entitled to qualified immunity from suit. First, "looking at the evidence in a light most favorable to the non-moving party, the court must determine whether evidence exists that the defendants violated the plaintiff's constitutional rights [in this instance, Eighth Amendment right to reasonable medical treatment while a prisoner." Ramirez v. Knoulton, 542 F.3d 124, 128 (5th Cir. 2008). If so, the court must ...


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