The Public Eye: Sacramento County settles lawsuit over jail injury for $150,000

Published: Sunday, Jul. 8, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Saturday, Aug. 25, 2012 - 11:12 pm

Even though he was a regular, Marvin Orr was never able to get a bottom bunk when he checked into the Sacramento County Main Jail.

Now, it has wound up costing the taxpayers $150,000 to make his federal lawsuit against the county go away.

Orr has been in and out of the jail since 1994, most recently last month, on comparatively minor beefs – drunken driving, petty theft, possession of drug paraphernalia, vandalism.

But, despite serious medical problems acknowledged by the jailers, he has never been able to snag a bottom bunk.

The system puts him at a disadvantage: The toughest guy in the cell gets the bottom. Orr is not a tough guy, not a fighter. The 48-year-old man, in extremely poor health, has been over a lot of rough road.

The Sheriff's Department declined to comment.

Twelve days before Christmas in 2008 Orr pitched headfirst off his upper bunk, breaking his right leg and bashing his head on the concrete floor. He had gone into custody five days earlier to serve the remainder of a misdemeanor sentence. His jail records clearly showed he should have been on a lower bunk.

Orr's suit over the incident was dismissed Monday after Sacramento County settled with him for $150,000.

According to the legal action, Orr suffers from arthritis and attendant joint problems so severe that he gets disability benefits, uses a cane to ambulate and is on a variety of pain medicines and other medications. At the time of the incident, his degenerating hips needed to be replaced, and he was a diabetic taking medicine to hold off seizures.

His ailments, the suit claims, were all on record at the jail, which put its medical and custodial staff on notice "of both the severity of his … conditions and the need for him to be housed on both a lower bunk and lower tier."

Records in 2007 cited degenerative hips and the neuropathy that afflicted Orr and noted the need for a lower bunk and tier. Jail records dated June 2008 confirmed his need for a lower bunk and a lower tier. The next month, Orr took a fall at the jail.

He checked into the jail on Dec. 8, 2008, and took a spill from his upper bunk that same day, causing head injuries and loss of consciousness for a time. A jail special-needs form dated the next day reiterated the importance of a lower bunk and tier, and noted that Orr had to have a cane to get around and a wheelchair for transportation to court.

But the system is entrenched, so he remained on a top bunk, and less than a week later took the header that broke his leg and led to the lawsuit. This time he hit his head on the metal toilet.

"Rather than immediately taking Orr to the hospital for proper evaluation and treatment, he was instead propped up in a wheelchair," the suit alleges. "He spent several days in the wheelchair in the so-called medical wing sitting in his own waste. His frequent pleas for urgent medical attention were ignored."

After "other inmates and at least one correctional officer aggressively lobbied for action," Orr was transported on Dec. 16 to the UC Davis Medical Center, where he had surgery on his broken leg and remained for 10 days. Planned hip replacement surgery had to be postponed.

After Orr fell last month while climbing the stairs to his cell on an upper tier, his attorney, Stewart Katz, says he spoke to a ranking Sheriff's Department officer at the jail, to the county counsel's office, and the county's outside litigation counsel in an effort to assure Orr a bottom bunk and lower tier.

After Katz spoke to a jail watch commander, Orr was moved to a lower tier, but nothing else changed, the attorney said. His client occupied a top bunk during his stay last month, even as the county was cutting a $150,000 check to Orr and Katz.

"This is not rocket science," Katz said. "It wouldn't cost the county a nickel to make sure he is in a lower bunk on a lower tier. We're not talking resources here, just common sense."

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Denny Walsh



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