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Ala. sheriff calls for 24/7 jail medical services following inmate’s death

“Given the current drug crisis facing our nation and county, the need for round-the-clock medical attention is more critical than ever,’’ Walker County Sheriff Nick Smith said


Walker County Sheriff Nick Smith holds a press conference following the death of an inmate.

Carol Robinson/TNS

By Carol Robinson

JASPER, Ala. — Walker County Sheriff Nick Smith said he has consistently advocated for 24/7 medical serves at the county jail, but the issue has yet to be adequately addressed by the county commission.

“Given the current drug crisis facing our nation and county, the need for round-the-clock medical attention is more critical than ever,’’ Smith said.

As early as October 2023, the sheriff’s office submitted its first request for life-saving monitors in the book area, he said, and they still aren’t in place, despite being approved in two months ago.

Smith spoke out Monday following the weekend death of a 47-year-old inmate.

Sira Jeremain Theus, of Jasper, was arrested April 12 after he was accused of selling methamphetamine to an undercover officer, court records show.

Smith said prior to Theus’ intake, corrections officers and onsite medical staff conducted a thorough fit-for-confinement check, which became standard procedure more than a year ago.

Theus, the sheriff said, showed symptoms such as swollen legs, high blood pressure and an elevated heart rate. He was taken to the hospital to receive medical treatment before being accepted into custody.

After receiving clearance from medical personnel, Theus was taken back to the jail and booked in.

“Throughout his time in custody, the inmate received regular monitoring and care from our medical staff,’’ Smith said.

Theus was being kept in a booking cell so that he could be watched closely for possible medical issues, Smith said.

At 9:15 p.m. Friday, April 19 , Theus suffered a suspected medical emergency, said ALEA Senior Trooper Cody Farrar .

Corrections officers promptly administered life-saving measures until the nurse took over. Once Jasper Fire and Rescue medics arrived and also continued the efforts.

Theus was pronounced dead.

Authorities are awaiting an autopsy to determine the cause of death. Smith said he believes Theus died from natural causes and doesn’t think drugs played a role.

Authorities said there were no signs of foul play. The body has been sent to the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences for autopsy, which is standard procedure for in-custody deaths.

“Our deepest prayers are extended to the family during this difficult time,” Smith said.

Smith said he wanted to address the challenges his office has encountered over the past 6 ½ years.

“Jail deaths, though regrettable, are not uncommon nationwide,’’ Smith said. “Under the previous administration, there were nine such incidents in a four-year period, whereas during my tenure, spanning 6 ½ years, there have been four.”

Smith said the sheriff’s office has increased medical coverage to 16 hours a day. “It is evident that this is insufficient,’’ he said. “The federal decree of 1994 mandated 24/7 medical coverage, a requirement that to my knowledge, in my lifetime, has not been fulfilled. “

The sheriff lamented the delay in the life-saving monitors. Those monitors, he said, would be in the cells and would set off an alarm if there was to be distress in inmates’ heart rate and respiratory rate.

Though approved in February, delays in payment for the devices further hindered the progress. The invoice, he said, was finally settled on March 26 .

“As of today, these devices have yet to be implemented,’’ he said, “despite our initial request in October 2023.”

Efforts to reach Walker County Commission Chair Steve Miller for comment weren’t immediately successful.

The sheriff’s office has received criticism over the death of inmate Tony Mitchell, 33, who died Jan. 26, 2023, at Walker Baptist Medical Center , just over two weeks after he was arrested on charges that he fired on Walker County deputies as they responded to a welfare check requested by his family.

Lawyers for Mitchell’s mother, Margaret Mitchell, filed a federal lawsuit in March 2023, claiming that jail deputies tased Mitchell and locked him in a freezer, causing his death.

Earlier this year, his death certificate was released listing his manner of death as homicide and listed the causes as hypothermia and sepsis “resulting from infected injuries obtained during incarceration and medical neglect.”

Smith was asked if there was a perception of trust issues with the sheriff’s office.

“I think that it’s an ongoing problem over the last 20 or 30 years, and I don’t think it’s just one incident in particular,’’ he said. “I think its an ongoing thing that persists with the sheriff’s office and when they happen in Walker County, they seemed to always be multiplied and made bigger.”

He said medical services at the jail have been a priority since he took office.

“People don’t want to tell that story,’’ he said. “Since Day 1, I’ve advocated for 24/7 (medical services).”

“It’s unfortunate, it’s regrettable that anyone ever has to die in jail,’’ Smith said. “But it happens all across the nation.”

When a prisoner reports an injury or a medical emergency, there is a specific protocol to follow. In the following video, Lexipol co-founder and risk management expert Gordon Graham outlines the necessary steps to take in such situations.

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