Family of York Co. Detention Center inmate files lawsuit

A York County Detention Center inmate died last year after being strapped to a chair for more than an hour while suffering an epileptic seizure, according to a lawsuit filed by the man's family.

The suit says a detention center nurse checked on Jeffrey William Waddell several times during the seizure but provided no medical care. A videotape shows Waddell's head moving forcefully to the left and right, and guards at one point wiped foam from his mouth.

Interim York County Coroner Sabrina Gast said Waddell, 36, died from the epileptic seizure.

"They watched and videotaped while he died, and they didn't do anything," said Waddell's mother, Jeanne Waddell of Rock Hill.

"This should not have to happen to anyone," she said. "You should not have to die strapped to a chair while having a seizure."

The suit names York County, the York Detention Center and Sheriff Bruce Bryant, who oversees the detention center as part of his office. The nurse is not named in the suit because state law mandates that state or county agencies can be sued as opposed to the individual, attorney Randall Hood said.

Bryant and Ralph Misle, chief of the detention center, referred comments to Kristie Jordan, staff attorney for the sheriff's office. She declined to comment. York County interim manager David Larson could not be reached.

Waddell's family is being represented by Hood, as well as Robert Phillips and Brent Stewart, all of Rock Hill. The suit, filed Monday, alleges that a detention center nurse checked Jeffrey Waddell three times as he struggled during the seizure, which lasted about 1 hour and 15 minutes, but failed to provide medical care. The treatment was recorded on a video at the detention center, the suit said.

"It was an injustice," Jeanne Waddell said. "No one should die like that."

History of seizures

Jeanne Waddell said her son had suffered from seizures since his preteen years. He suffered his last seizure May 10, 2006, while in custody at the detention center. Jeffrey Waddell was in custody after being charged with assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature on Feb. 5, 2006. He was accused of hitting a man in the head with a wine bottle, according to an arrest warrant and a report from the Rock Hill Police Department.

While at the detention center, he let officials know of his seizures in several inmate request forms.

Around 3:25 p.m. May 10, Waddell was taken by officials to Piedmont Medical Center for a mental evaluation, according to a detention center official's statement. The official noted that Waddell "seemed all right, except that his feet were slightly swollen." During the hospital visit, an official removed the shackles from Waddell's legs because his feet had swollen.

At the hospital, Waddell fell getting out of a bed and hit his head on a chair, causing a gash on his right temple that required two stitches, the official wrote. He suffered a seizure about 20 minutes after he was discharged, according to the suit.

While in the transport van, Waddell was put in a cage that he was heard striking, according to a detention center report. At the detention center, Waddell was "combative towards transport staff and resisted them physically," another officer noted in a report.

He was restrained by eight officers and placed in a restraint chair, according to a statement from another detention center official. The suit says Waddell was put in the chair around 8:16 p.m. A short time later, Waddell suffered the seizure. A video of the incident was viewed by Dr. Michael M. Amiri, an epilepsy and sleep medicine specialist of Mecklenburg Neurological Associates, for the detention center. He could not be reached.

Less than 14 minutes after Waddell was placed in the chair, he turned his head forcefully to the left and right and foamed at the mouth, Amiri notes in a two-page report of the video. A guard held Waddell's head while a second guard cleaned his mouth.

Afterward, Waddell "stayed quiet with his eyes closed for the most part until he started moving his head" and began foaming or spitting from his mouth, according to Amiri's report. He moved his head forcefully to the right with more foaming and drooling, the suit notes.

Waddell, who continued foaming and drooling, had difficulty breathing twice, the suit notes. As the seizure continued, the nurse looked through the portal but didn't help, according to the suit.

Amiri notes that Waddell had difficulty breathing and turned his head before his chest stopped moving at 9:29 p.m., more than an hour after being placed in the chair.

Futile effort to resuscitate

A detention official called the nurse. Another responding officer noted that Waddell was slumped in the restraint chair with his eyes closed, the officer wrote. He also noted that Waddell's pulse was very faint, the document says.

"People were calling Inmate Waddell's name as I entered the cell," an officer wrote. "He was not responding."

The nurse started cutting off his shirt as officers were trying to remove him from the chair to the floor, where officials tried to revive him through CPR.

A detention center reports notes Waddell died of natural causes. Yet, interim coroner Gast said an autopsy showed he died from an epileptic seizure. Gast said toxicology reports found that Waddell did not have any street drugs or alcohol in his body.