Alaska to pay $550K settlement to family of deceased inmate
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The state of Alaska agreed to pay $550,000 to settle a negligence claim by the family of a man who died in jail, court documents said.
Joseph Murphy suffered a fatal heart attack in 2015 while he was being held in Juneau’s Lemon Creek Correctional Center, The Anchorage Daily News reported Sunday.
An investigation found Murphy had a heart condition but was denied medication by guards.
Murphy’s family filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit in 2017, naming the state, corrections officers and a nurse as defendants. The settlement announced Friday resolved the claims against all parties except the nurse Jill Robinson.
Murphy was not charged with a crime at the time of his death, but was taken into a “protective hold” with a 0.16% blood-alcohol level, twice the legal limit.
State law permits police to detain people who cannot take of themselves for up to 12 hours. The investigation found Murphy was held longer than 12 hours.
The investigation found Murphy died within 90 minutes of being denied medication by guards, including one who said, “I don’t care, you could die right now and I don’t care.”
Mark Choate, the attorney representing the family, said the settlement was “a negotiated resolution with the state that allows us to continue with what we think is the most significant claim, against the nurse.” The nurse failed to render aid to Murphy, Choate said.
Allegations that Robinson caused Murphy’s death, failed to render aid or withheld medication are “simply false,” said attorney John Teimessen of Fairbanks.
“Ms. Robinson had a single brief encounter with Mr. Murphy prior to her shift during which she offered him ambulance transport back to the emergency room. He refused her offer,” Tiemessen said.
Murphy was in no apparent distress during his short meeting with Robinson, he said. She relayed his complaints to the corrections staff so they could continue to monitor him.
“No medication was withheld from Mr. Murphy. Mr. Murphy did not have any cardiac history or medication noted on his paperwork or on his person when he arrived at Lemon Creek from the emergency room. Mr. Murphy did not relate any cardiac history or mention any medication during his brief encounter with Nurse Robinson,” Tiemessen said. “Unfortunately, Mr. Murphy had his third heart attack and died shortly after she met him. The nearly complete blockage of his coronary artery combined with his preexisting heart damage ultimately proved fatal.”
Her attorneys are reviewing the settlement and are concerned that state officials may have violated their duties under a collective bargaining agreement to defend and indemnify her, Tiemessen said.
He said they will respond in court filings.
The corrections department’s main concern is ensuring the safety and well-being of inmates and staff, spokesperson Sarah Gallagher said.
“We deal with a very high-risk population, and we do everything we can to try and prevent tragic events like this from occurring,” Gallagher said.
Murphy worked for the National Park Service in Kotzebue and served in the Alaska Army National Guard with a deployment to Iraq in 2005, according to his obituary.