Stephen Horn III
Stephen Horn III

Attorneys for a former Tuscola County Jail inmate allegedly given wrong medications while incarcerated say crucial video evidence was purposely destroyed by officials who wanted to avoid incrimination.

The allegations come from recent court documents filed by attorneys for Stephen Horn III, the former jail inmate.

Attorneys for Horn originally filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan against the Tuscola County Jail Nov. 7, 2013, claiming that in 2011 he was given heavily sedating medications he wasn’t supposed to receive and that caused him to fall and sustain injuries. The suit names Tuscola County and former jail official, Officer Jonathon Ramirez, as defendants.

Court filings and legal costs continue to pile up in the case as any kind of settlement “isn’t even close,” said Mike Hoagland, controller, Tuscola County. The most recent settlement conference, which yielded no results, was held in early July, he said.

Within two weeks, on July 11, Horn’s attorneys – with Detroit powerhouse law firm Honigman, Miller, Schwartz, and Cohn L.L.P. – filed a response to a motion for summary judgment submitted by the county’s attorney. A summary judgment is when a court disposes a case because of lack of evidence.

The filing says a summary judgment is inappropriate due to a number of facts, including allegations that evidence shows Horn’s injuries “flow directly from Tuscola County’s policy of ‘rubber-stamping’ the outside medical company responsible for prisoners’ medical care without any formal review.

“That policy resulted in an on-call doctor who was subsequently stripped of his license in connection with the death of a patient and who joined Officer Ramirez in trivializing plaintiff’s intoxication.”

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Inside a Tuscola County jail cell earlier in 2016. (Photo by John Cook)

The filing claims the matter is not a case “of simple negligence by a correctional officer in dispensing medication.

“To the contrary, this is a case where a correctional officer wrongly administered two highly-potent medications…over plaintiff’s repeated and strenuous objections. Then, despite having full knowledge of the intoxicating effects of those medications (knowledge confirmed by an on-call doctor’s comment that plaintiff would be ‘tickled’ by the drugs), the correctional officers simply ignored the peril in which he placed plaintiff and failed to monitor him – despite clear jail policy requiring that intoxicated prisoners be constantly monitored.”

The filing also mentions video evidence that was destroyed, claiming it could help resolve the matter but instead was destroyed purposely.

Specifically, Horn’s attorneys claim jail officilas “had approximately a month and a half to preserve the video before it was deleted. Yet, defendants did not.

“Defendants’ failure to preserve the video was part of a broader policy of largely selectively preserving only beneficial video evidence,” the filing states. “As Officer Ramirez and the County’s Rule 30(b)(6) representative both acknowledge, videos of assaults by detainees and other videos that are adverse to detainees were preserved.

“The video of (Horn’s) fall…was consciously not preserved,” the filing also claims.

Attorneys from Farmington Hills-based Johnson, Rosati, Schultz & Joppich P.C. representing the county and Ramirez responded to the July 11 filing on Aug. 2.

The response denies any improper handling of Horn.

Further, the response says any claims that the video was purposely destroyed is “meritless,” pointing to the fact the fall was thoroughly documented in a written report about the incident.

“If defendants’ intent was to conceal the content of the video and claim that a fall never occurred, certainly the deputy’s report…would not describe the fall. Plaintiff’s claim that the video does not exist because of any nefarious intent on behalf of Defendants is meritless.”

The Advertiser reached out to Tuscola County Undersheriff Glen Skrent for comment. He said he referred the request to corporate counsel who did not respond by press time.

As The Advertiser was the first to report, the suit alleges that on Feb. 18, 2011, Ramirez began dispensing prescription medication to Tuscola County Jail inmates from a medicine cart.

Horn was called to the medicine cart to receive his prescription medication. Attorneys for Horn claim he inspected the pills, said they were the wrong medications, and told the officer dispensing pills of the disparity.

However, Horn claims the officer said he “only dispenses the medications he is ordered to dispense, that Plaintiff was given the correct medications, and that Plaintiff should consume it.”

Horn claims to have attempted again to notify the officer of the wrong medication but was told “he should consume it and return to his cell.”

Horn, alleges through attorneys that he was mistakenly given the powerful medications branded Seroquel – used to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression – and sleep medication Ambien. The suit further alleges the medications caused Horn to later fall and hit his head.

Horn’s complaint details how he “became dizzy, lightheaded, and fatigued, and slept for a few hours” before he woke up to go to the bathroom, became lightheaded and dizzy and fell and hit his head.

Horn allegedly asked to see a doctor or go to a hospital but instead was moved to a holding cell, “was provided ice and escorted back to his cell.”

Ultimately, the suit against the county claims, Horn underwent a CT scan, saw a neurologist and continues to suffer from the injuries.

“Plaintiff continues to suffer from head injuries, including recurring and debilitating headaches, swelling, and pain, and pain and suffering resulting from the physical injuries as a result of Defendant’s deliberate indifference towards Plaintiff’s medical needs,” according to Horn’s amended complaint filed Dec. 21, 2015.

Horn, currently housed in Carson City Correctional Facility, was sentenced in 2011 for to up to 20 years for unlawful driving of a motor vehicle and receiving and concealing a stolen motor vehicle. He was sentenced as a habitual offender. State records show Horn was convicted of charges related to unarmed robbery in 2006. He could be released as soon as 2017.

The court has not ruled yet on the county’s and Ramirez’s motion for summary judgment.

Andrew Dietderich is editor of The Advertiser and can be reached at andrew@tcadvertiser.com