DANVILLE — The estate of a Hoopeston man who died in the Vermilion County jail is suing the county in federal court.
The administrator of the estate of Thomas Dalton filed a lawsuit earlier this month, alleging that jail employees ignored his medical requests for eight days until he died Feb. 16, 2020.
“This was completely preventable,” Peoria attorney Louis Meyer said.
Vermilion County Sheriff Patrick Hartshorn did not respond to a request for comment.
Dalton, 33, was booked into the jail Jan. 30, 2020, for possession of a controlled substance, according to the lawsuit, and listed pre-existing medical conditions.
On Feb. 3, Shelly Harding, a nurse, examined Dalton and ordered medication for narcotics withdrawal, the suit said.
On Feb. 8, Dalton “submitted a Medical Request Form indicating that since February 6, 2020, there had been blood in his diarrhea,” the lawsuit says.
He allegedly submitted another form the next day indicating his “‘blood issue’ was urgent,” the lawsuit says, and “that he had pain extending from his chest to his groin and that he needed help.”
A day later, the lawsuit alleges that Harding went to Dalton’s cell but “did not perform any exam on Mr. Dalton and simply told him that he was just experiencing ‘drug withdrawal.’”
The suit alleges that while Dalton was on the way to a video court appearance Feb. 11, he “was so ill he had to sit on the floor of the elevator” and needed to be helped to his feet.
His symptoms continued to worsen, the lawsuit says, with Dalton “wheezing, coughing up blood and passing blood in his stool.”
“It would have been obvious to anyone, including individuals with no medical training, that Mr. Dalton’s serious medical needs were not being met,” the suit says, “and that he needed to be promptly transported to a hospital.”
The evening of Feb. 15, he again requested medical attention, but was allegedly ignored, according to the lawsuit.
By 4 a.m. Feb. 16, “Dalton’s requests for medical attention woke other inmates that were in the same housing unit,” the complaint says, and when food trays were passed out around 6:30 a.m., Dalton told jail employees “he was coughing up blood and needed to go to the hospital.”
Later that day, a jail employee, James Bianchetta, allegedly “responded with a sarcastic remarks (sic) regarding the ‘definition of congestive heart problems’ and that Mr. Dalton could ‘yell pretty loud for someone who can’t catch their breath,’” the lawsuit says.
That afternoon, an inmate in Dalton’s unit “refused to lock up in order to get the attention of the correctional staff,” the complaint said, prompting Bianchetta to check on Dalton, who was unresponsive.
“Only after finding Mr. Dalton completely unresponsive did the individual deputies finally contact emergency medical services,” the lawsuit states, and efforts to resuscitate Dalton failed.
The 20-page complaint accuses Hartshorn and several jail employees of violating Dalton’s rights to proper medical care while in custody and Harding of medical malpractice.
It is accompanied by an affidavit from an unnamed doctor, who reviewed medical records and the autopsy report and concluded that with proper care, “more likely than not,” Dalton “would not have died from MRSA meningitis and pneumonia,” as the autopsy concluded.
While Dalton had a history of heroin use, diabetes, congestive heart failure and asthma, the doctor wrote that Dalton could have been given antibiotics and taken to an acute-care facility.