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The Journal Gazette

Friday, July 07, 2017 1:00 am

Dead inmate's family sues

Claims Adams jail staff ignored mental illness for weeks

ASHLEY SLOBODA | The Journal Gazette

The family of a former Adams County Jail inmate filed a wrongful death lawsuit in federal court Thursday, alleging the sheriff and jail officials failed to obtain emergency medical care for the 38-year-old despite obvious signs and symptoms of severe medical distress.

Jeremy Oswalt died Sept. 28, almost two months after he was detained following an Aug. 1 arrest. Oswalt had been arrested for assaulting several people at a convenience store during what his family alleged in the suit was a psychotic episode.

According to the lawsuit, he had been diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder with psychosis, a condition that required numerous inpatient hospitalizations, the last of which was in July 2016.

“Individuals with serious mental health illnesses receive poor treatment – or no treatment at all – while detained in county jails, resulting in a downward spiral that often leads to a preventable health crisis or even death. … Jeremy Oswalt was one of those at risk,” the lawsuit states.

Adams County Sheriff Shane Rekeweg, Jail Commander James Miller, the Adams County Sheriff's Department and nine jail officers are named as defendants.

Oswalt was confined to a “dark, cool padded segregation cell” after being placed on suicide watch Aug. 3, 2016, and his condition “quickly deteriorated to the point where he was naked in his cell, uncommunicative, and refusing to eat, drink or take his medications,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit claims the sheriff, jail commander and jail officers ignored a nurse's warning about Oswalt's health in mid-September.

“Sheriff Rekeweg, Jail Commander Miller, and the jail officers named in this lawsuit all watched Jeremy die a slow death. It was obvious at least two weeks before his death that Jeremy needed to be taken to the hospital on an emergency basis,” the family's attorney, Stephen M. Wagner, said in a statement.

In an email, Rekeweg said he cannot comment on any pending suits filed against the department. Miller did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Oswalt was taken to Adams County Memorial Hospital after an officer found him unresponsive about 4 a.m. Sept. 28, the lawsuit said. It indicated he was pronounced dead at 6:25 a.m. and died, in part, from hypothermia, dehydration and lack of nutrition. His family is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, according to the lawsuit.

“Jeremy's family, including his parents, siblings and young daughter, hope that this lawsuit will bring public awareness to the perilous plight of those individuals in county jails who suffer from mental illnesses,” Wagner's statement said.