The father of an inmate who died two years ago at the Penobscot County Jail alleges in a federal lawsuit that staff ignored her breathing problems that were noted by medical staff during the intake process.
Jennifer Dyer, 37, of Greenbush was found dead in her cell early on the morning on June 3, 2018. The medical examiner determined that she died of a drug overdose with chronic bronchial inflammatory disease being a contributing factor in her death.
Walter Dyer, 67, of Greenbush is seeking unspecified damages. He claims that jail staff was negligent when they allegedly ignored her request to be taken to a hospital for emergency treatment due to shortness of breath.
The elder Dyer on May 28 sued Penobscot County, Sheriff Troy Morton and four corrections officers in Penobscot County Superior Court. On Tuesday, attorneys for the county had the case moved to U.S. District Court in Bangor.
The case is likely to be resolved more quickly in federal than state court.
Dyers’ attorney, Jodi Nofsinger of Lewiston, called Jennifer Dyer’s death a tragedy that should have been avoided.
“Jennifer Dyer had asthma, a medical condition that is very common in Maine,” Nofsinger said. “Jennifer was arrested for a minor misdemeanor offense, and while in the custody of the Penobscot County Jail she had an asthma attack. County employees denied Jennifer the simple medical care that would have saved her life. The families of those who wrongfully die in law enforcement custody deserve justice not only for their loved ones, but also to protect others from harm.”
County officials denied that jail staff acted inappropriately in dealing with Jennifer Dyer in court documents filed on Tuesday. The defendants in the lawsuit admitted that the inmate asked to see a nurse about 20 minutes before she was found facedown in her cell, but denied that she asked to be taken to a hospital.
Peter Marchesi, the Augusta attorney representing the county, the jail and the employees, said Wednesday that there is no reason to believe that Jennifer Dyer did not receive proper care from the facility’s medical providers.
“It is one thing to accuse individuals of wrongdoing in a lawsuit,” Marchesi said. “It is quite another to prove that they actually did anything wrong. We have every confidence that the county, the jail and all of the jail employees will be completely cleared of any wrongdoing.”
Jennifer Dyer was brought to the jail around 11:30 a.m. June 2, 2018, on two outstanding warrants, Chief Deputy William Birch said the day after she died. She was arrested on Main Street in Orono on charges of unpaid court fines and operating a vehicle after her license was suspended or revoked.
The lawsuit claims that medical staff at the jail expressed concern over her low oxygen saturation levels. They allegedly left instructions for corrections officers to take Jennifer Dyer to a hospital if her blood saturation levels fell below a certain level or if her shortness of breath was not relieved with the use of an nebulizer.
A trial date has not been set.