Pinellas sheriff asks judge to deny $975K award over jail death

Published March 7, 2014

TAMPA — An attorney representing Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri has asked a federal judge to set aside a jury's $975,000 award to the estate of Jennifer DeGraw, a mentally ill woman who died in jail in 2009.

Lawyer Mark McLaughlin argued that the jury didn't have sufficient evidence of deliberate indifference by jail medical staff.

DeGraw, who had been acting erratically before her arrest, was initially taken into custody for her own protection under the Baker Act but was jailed after striking a deputy. She died eight days later of a heart attack due to an electrolyte imbalance after refusing food and medicine, the medical examiner ruled.

The legal issue may still have legs because U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich deferred ruling on previous defense motions objecting to the legal basis of the complaint. McLaughlin is now asking her to rule.