The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office was right to settle rather than appeal a jury's decision in a lawsuit over the death of a jail inmate. The settlement amount — $1.15 million — and the doubt cast on the agency's competency to handle mentally ill inmates are likely painful to Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, but the agency was horribly negligent in the case.
Gualtieri's predecessor, Jim Coats, was sheriff in 2009 when Jennifer DeGraw, 50, who was bipolar and off her medication, showed up at her husband's workplace in a manic state. Her husband called the Sheriff's Office, believing it would place her in a mental health facility under the state's Baker Act. But DeGraw kicked a deputy, was arrested and jailed.
In the jail medical wing, DeGraw didn't receive her medications, was incoherent, refused food and water, and wasn't checked on by employees who falsified a watch log to hide it. She died of a heart attack after eight days of inhumane treatment. In February a jury found the medical staff negligent and awarded damages. The Sheriff's Office announced it would appeal but reconsidered.
The settlement ends the case but not the need for the department to remember its vital lesson: Deputies and medical staff must have special training, constant supervision and a big dose of compassion when dealing with the mentally ill, even in challenging situations.