Parents of Teen Killed in Jail File Forensic Malpractice Lawsuit

Posted By Kinnard, Clayton & Beveridge || Nov 30, 2010

An 18-year-old man died on August 15, 2009, at the Middle Tennessee Medical Center in Murfreesboro, just hours after he was arrested for DUI and engaging in a high-speed chase with deputies and wrecking his car. According to the Rutherford County Sheriff's Office, he died from natural causes. According to his parents, he was cruelly restrained and beaten during his detention, causing his death, and the company hired to perform his autopsy helped the police cover it up.

The young man's parents have now filed a malpractice lawsuit against the company, Forensic Medical of Nashville, seeking $3 million in compensation. They have separately filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit against the Rutherford County Sheriff.

Teen's Death Raised Questions but Was Ruled Natural

Rutherford County Sheriff's deputies say that on the night of August 14, 2009, they became involved in a high-speed chase after they tried to pull over the 18-year-old man for speeding. After a crash ended the chase, the troopers arrested the teen and ultimately charged him with DUI, evading arrest, reckless endangerment, assault and other charges.

The police say the teen fought them during booking. According to the lawsuits, the deputies restrained him by putting him in handcuffs and leg shackles, strapping him to a chair, and putting a mesh "spit hood" over his face.

The deputies allegedly sprayed the young man at least three times with pepper spray and, once he was restrained, beat him.

After that, the deputies left the young man alone in a cell for 10 minutes before sending in a nurse. She couldn't find a pulse. Within 20 minutes of that time, he was rushed to the hospital, but he died.

A medical examiner from Forensic Medical ruled the teen's death natural, saying it was caused by a heart defect. The report said there was no evidence that the teen was beaten by deputies. The TBI investigated, but no charges were filed.

Chief Medical Examiner Charged With Official Misconduct, Outraged Social Justice Groups Question Teen's 'Natural' Death

In November 2009, the NAACP and other social justice groups used the teen's death as an example during a forum where they accused the Rutherford County Sheriff's Office of a pattern of misconduct.

The scandal escalated when Forensic Medical's president and chief medical examiner was arrested in Mississippi for possessing marijuana -- and charged with official misconduct in Tennessee because he got the marijuana from an evidence locker. He has since pled guilty to the official misconduct charge and no longer works for the company.

Forensic Medical no longer performs autopsies for the State of Tennessee, although it does still have its contract in Nashville.

In the forensic malpractice lawsuit, the teen's parents accuse Forensic Medical of "deceitful and untrue statements and dishonorable professional conduct" during its autopsy and investigation of their son's death. In their wrongful death lawsuit against the Rutherford County Sheriff's Office, they accuse the police of causing their son's death by using "excessive and traumatic" restraints and beating him.

Forensic Medical has not responded to the malpractice suit. The Rutherford County Sheriff's Office denies that the young man was improperly restrained or beaten by deputies.

Source: The Tennessean, "Parents sue Nashville forensics company over jail death," Brian Haas, November 27, 2010

Blog Home