Wrongful-death suit claims jail had no medical staff

Attorney Gary Prince alleged the jail had no medical staff on duty at the time of Nathan Silvers' death and the facility's only nurse had quit a week before

By Jamie Satterfield
Knoxville News-Sentinel

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The Unicoi County Sheriff’s Office had no medical staff on duty in its jail when an inmate died last year from an overdose, an attorney for county officials said in a court filing Friday.

Unicoi Sheriff Mike Hensley denied that on Monday, however.

“We’ve always had medical staff,” he said.

Attorney Jeffrey Ward on Friday filed a response to a wrongful-death lawsuit filed against Unicoi County and seven jailers in U.S. District Court in connection with the fatal overdose of inmate Nathan Silvers.

In the lawsuit, attorney Gary Prince alleged the jail had no medical staff on duty at the time of Silvers’ death and the facility’s only nurse had quit a week before.

In his response, Ward wrote, “The defendant admits that no medical staff was on duty at the time of Mr. Silvers’ incarceration.” He did not address whether the county had either on its payroll or via contract with a private agency staff trained in providing inmate medical care.

Contacted Monday, Hensley said Ward was wrong in his admission of no medical staff on duty when Silvers died. Pressed on why his own attorney would file a response that was in error, Hensley continued to repeat, “We have medical staff.”

Jail certification standards set by the Tennessee Corrections Institute require the provision of medical care to inmates either through a contract with an outside agency or by in-house staff. The standards specifically state “detoxification from alcohol, opiates, hypnotics and other stimulants shall be conducted under medical supervision.”

Silvers, 38, was arrested by an officer with the Erwin Police Department in April 2014 after he was found “passed out in his vehicle,” according to the lawsuit filed on his behalf by his daughter. Silvers was drunk and told the officer he had injected intravenously four Xanax, a prescription muscle relaxant, the lawsuit stated.

The Erwin officer, not identified in the lawsuit, told jailers about Silvers’ confessed drug use. Attorney Prince wrote Silvers was conscious when admitted but died hours later in his cell. He is demanding on behalf of Miranda Silvers $2 million in damages.

A Tennessee Corrections Institute spokesman could not immediately give details on when the Unicoi County Jail was last inspected or if it had been decertified. The lawsuit said Silvers’ death was under investigation by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, which did not immediately respond to a query on the status of that probe.

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