Family of man who died in jail sues officials

Published 10:10 am Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The family of a man who died at the Lawrence County Jail last fall filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati Friday against the sheriff, several jail employees and Dr. Rodolfo Canos, the jail physician.

Civil rights attorneys Al Gerhardstein and Jennifer Branch of Cincinnati filed the lawsuit on behalf of the family of Timothy Conwell, 38, who died of an oxycodone overdose in the jail drunk tank Oct. 15, 2011.

The lawsuit alleges Conwell was not given any medical treatment and might be alive today if he had been given necessary care.

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Canos and Sheriff Jeff Lawless were contacted but were not immediately available for comment.

The Conwell family seeks “a full explanation of the events of that night and impose accountability on those responsible for Timothy’s suffering and death,” according to a prepared statement.”

“Oxycodone is a huge problem in southern Ohio,” Gerhardstein said in the prepared statement. “Jail medical programs need to identify the symptoms and provide proper treatment. Timothy Conwell would be alive today if a few simple steps had just been followed. This must not be allowed to happen again.”

At approximately 9:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 15, a sheriff’s deputy was called to the Comfort Inn and Suites in Burlington after getting a complaint about a man who was passed out on a sofa in the lobby but was not a guest of the hotel.

Lawless said at the time of the incident that, although Conwell had no identification on him, the deputy recognized him because of his previous dealings with the sheriff’s office.

Conwell told the deputy he was trying to find some place to stay because he was supposed to report to the sheriff’s office later that day and was to be taken to prison to serve an eight-year sentence on drug charges. The deputy said at the time the hotel and other hotels had refused to rent Conwell a room because he did not have proper identification.

Lawless said at the time of the incident efforts were made to find someone who would let Conwell stay for one night and that everyone who was asked refused.

“Conwell’s brother was contacted but he refused to allow Mr. Conwell to stay with him,” Lawless said in a prepared statement at the time of the death. “Three friends were also contacted and no one would allow Mr. Conwell to stay with them even after the deputy volunteered to drive him to their homes.

Because of Conwell’s condition, he was taken to jail and was conscious at the time he was booked in. He was checked on repeatedly throughout the night, Lawless had said, and at one point was even said to be asleep and snoring.

At 4:40 a.m. the next morning Conwell was found dead.