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Lawsuit filed over Arkansas jail inmate’s malnutrition death

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The family of a man who died from dehydration and malnutrition while being held in a west Arkansas jail filed a federal lawsuit Friday claiming jail staff ignored his medical and mental health needs.

Larry Eugene Price Jr. died at the Sebastian County jail in August 2021, after being held a little over a year at the facility awaiting trial on a terroristic threatening charge. Price, 51, who had a history of serious mental illness, had been held in solitary confinement at the county facility, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit against Sebastian County accuses the jail and its medical provider of neglecting Price as he ate and drank less over the course of a year and his weight dropped from 185 pounds (83.91 kilograms) to 90 pounds (40.82 kilograms).

Jail staff discontinued Price’s mental health medications after he refused to take them, the lawsuit said, and didn’t make any effort to follow up with the inmate to address his mental health needs.

“Larry Price suffered in the tortured throes of his untreated mental disorder for months on end as jail healthcare and security staff watched him waste away—apathetic to his life-threatening medical and mental health needs and to the cruelty of his confinement,” the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit was filed against Sebastian County and Turn Key Health Clinics LLC, the jail’s medical provider, along with two employees of Turn Key. It also lists several unnamed employees of the county jail and Turn Key as defendants.

Sebastian County Judge Steve Hotz said the sheriff is conducting an internal review of Price’s case. A message left at Oklahoma-based Turn Key Health Clinics was not immediately returned Friday afternoon.

“The county places a high priority on the safety of every person in our jail. We have medical personnel available to treat inmates in need of care,” Hotz said in an email. “The sheriff is conducting an internal review of this situation and hope to know more in the future.”

According to the lawsuit, inspections at the jail over the years identified problems such as overcrowding, understaffing and inadequate space at the county facility.

Price was arrested in August 2020 after he walked into the Fort Smith Police Department and threatened officers while pointing his finger as if her were pulling an imaginary trigger, the lawsuit said. Price, who also had a developmental disability, was homeless at the time of his arrest.

The lawsuit accuses the jail and its provider of violating Price’s constitutional rights, and seeks compensatory and punitive damages.