Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Pinellas County Jail death from negligence, attorney says

LARGO — Negligence by several Pinellas County Sheriff's Office employees caused the death of a 50-year-old woman with a history of mental health issues, according to an attorney representing the dead woman's husband.

Jennifer DeGraw of St. Petersburg was found unresponsive on the floor of her jail cell on March 24, 2009, eight days after Pinellas deputies arrested her on a charge of battery of a law enforcement officer.

In a notice of intent to sue that was sent to Sheriff Jim Coats last month, the attorney representing DeGraw's husband Michael said the preventable chain of events that led to the woman's death began when a deputy decided to jail DeGraw instead of committing her under the state's Baker Act.

"Had she been properly hospitalized initially instead of incarcerated … she would not have died," attorney Craig A. Laporte said in the letter.

The Sheriff's Office declined to comment because of the pending legal matter, said Sgt. Tom Nestor.

Michael DeGraw, now 45, called authorities on March 16, 2009, to report that his wife, who was bipolar, had quit taking her medication. According to a Sheriff's Office report provided to the St. Petersburg Times by Laporte, the deputy who responded to the couple's home reported that DeGraw was making irrational statements.

He originally told DeGraw that he intended to have her hospitalized under the Baker Act. But when DeGraw kicked the deputy as he attempted to put her in handcuffs, he deployed his Taser three times to subdue her and charged her with battery.

DeGraw was taken to the county jail and assigned to the medical wing. But the medical staff there failed to give her the medications she needed for the bipolar disorder as well as other health ailments, including seizures and hypertension, Laporte said.

Sheriff's Office procedures state that inmates who arrive on medications are to "continue to receive the medication in a timely fashion as prescribed." But nurse Siew Lung, who was interviewed by the detective investigating DeGraw's death, said she "did not dispense any medications to (DeGraw) as she continuously refused them."

And Sheriff's Office reports show that two jail staffers falsified entries in watch logs.

The detention deputy assigned to check on DeGraw every 15 minutes indicated she was looking in on the inmate as required, according to Sheriff's Office reports.

But the detective said the video he reviewed showed that the deputy, Patricia Shoberg, did not check on DeGraw three times in the hour before she was found unresponsive.

An internal affairs investigation concluded that Shoberg had falsified the log. She received a 56-hour suspension.

Nurse Aileen Mallari, who was assigned to screen DeGraw every two hours, also received a suspension after an internal affairs investigation found she, too, had listed visits to DeGraw that never took place.

DeGraw's behavior during her jail stay was a clear indicator she needed help for mental health issues, Laporte said.

"While she's in this jail from March 16 to March 24, she's incoherent. She's sleeping on the floor. She puts her food on the floor. She's climbing the walls. She's talking to people who aren't there."

Laporte said Michael DeGraw called the jail several times to try to speak with his wife, but was never allowed.

"You've got a caring husband who calls the Sheriff's Office to help, and they essentially kill his wife," Laporte said.

DeGraw was revived in her cell, then taken to Northside Hospital and Heart Institute, where she was pronounced dead. Laporte said the cause of death was determined to be fluid and electrolyte imbalance.

Pinellas County Jail death from negligence, attorney says 07/30/10 [Last modified: Thursday, September 1, 2011 8:06am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. No toll lanes north of downtown Tampa in three of four interstate proposals

    Transportation

    TAMPA — Express lanes may not be coming to downtown Tampa after all. Or at least not to the stretch of Interstate 275 that goes north through Bearss Avenue.

    Seminole Heights resident Kimberly Overman discusses the new interstate options with V.M. Ybor resident Chris Vela (left), Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp and HNTB consultant Chloe Coney during a Tampa Bay Express meeting Monday night at the Barrymore Hotel. [CAITLIN JOHNSTON  |  Times]
  2. No lack of issues facing St. Petersburg's six council candidates

    Elections

    ST. PETERSBURG — The six candidates for City Council gathered Monday evening in the very chamber to which they aspire to serve.

    St. Petersburg City Council candidates (from left)  Brandi Gabbard and Barclay Harless in District 2; Jerick Johnston and incumbent council member Darden Rice in District 4; and Justin Bean and Gina Driscoll of District 6. All six candidates appeared at Monday night's forum at City Hall sponsored by the League of Women Voters. [CHERIE DIEZ   |   Times]

  3. Iraq's Kurds vote on independence, raising regional fears

    World

    IRBIL, Iraq — Iraqi Kurds voted Monday in a landmark referendum on supporting independence, a move billed by the Kurdish leadership as an exercise in self-determination but viewed as a hostile act by Iraq's central government. Neighboring Turkey even threatened a military response.

    People celebrate Monday after voting closed in a referendum on independence in Irbil, Iraq.
  4. North Korean diplomat says Trump has 'declared war'

    War

    UNITED NATIONS — North Korea's top diplomat said Monday that President Donald Trump's weekend tweet was a "declaration of war" and North Korea has the right to retaliate by shooting down U.S. bombers, even in international airspace.

    North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, center, speaks outside the U.N. Plaza Hotel in New York on Monday.
  5. Pinellas grants St. Pete's request to add millions to pier budget

    Local Government

    Times Staff Writer

    The Pinellas County Commission has granted St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman's request to dedicate millions more toward the city's new pier.

    The St. Petersburg City Council on Thursday  voted 7-1 to appropriate $17.6 million for the over-water portion of the Pier District. This is a rendering of what the new Pier District could look like. [Courtesy of St. Petersburg]