EVERETT — A young woman’s 2014 death while suffering through heroin withdrawal at the Snohomish County Jail is now the focus of a federal lawsuit alleging corrections officials fostered a “culture of indifference” toward the medical needs of detainees.
Lindsay M. Kronberger, 24, was in misery, repeatedly vomiting and showing signs of severe dehydration, including a rapid heartbeat and low blood pressure, records show. She was described as appearing “emaciated” and under 95 pounds when she was booked into jail in connection with a domestic violence case. Even so, she shed eight pounds during the nine days she spent locked up before her death, according to the lawsuit filed on behalf of her husband in U.S. District Court in Seattle.
There were multiple warnings that Kronberger was gravely ill with drug withdrawal symptoms, but county officials instead provided her with care that was incomplete, inconsistent and inconsiderate, attorneys Karen Moore and Kenneth Brewe of the Everett law firm Brewe Layman said in court papers filed July 21.
Jail surveillance video allegedly documented corrections officers mocking Kronberger, including dancing outside her cell and exchanging “fist bumps,” the lawsuit claims.
“Lindsay was medically fragile, vulnerable, and completely under their power and control,” the lawyers wrote. “They stood just outside her cell mimicking and mocking her as she lay on her bed suffering needlessly.”
The county has received the complaint, is reviewing it and will respond, deputy prosecutor Michael Held said Wednesday. The active nature of the case limited his ability to discuss the allegations, he said.
An autopsy concluded Kronberger’s Jan. 13, 2014, death was caused by probable heart problems, dehydration and opiate withdrawal. Her death occurred just months after the county had consulted with federal experts and others about changes that were necessary to make the jail safer. That came after a string of inmate deaths starting in 2010, eventually reaching double digits.
Among other things, the jail was advised to initiate training and policies to better identify inmates whose lives could be put at risk by drug withdrawal.
At the time of Kronberger’s death the jail’s “training and policies, if any, were wholly inadequate to meet the needs of any inmate suffering from withdrawal,” the lawsuit said.
In Kronberger’s case, corrections staff and nurses hired to monitor inmate health “ignored Lindsay’s deteriorating condition, failed to consult with more experienced medical staff, and failed to transfer her medical care to a hospital despite clear signs of imminent peril over the last few days of her life,” the lawyers wrote.
Sheriff Ty Trenary inherited many of the problems at the jail. In response to the deaths he has instituted numerous changes, including replacing jail command staff and enacting new policies, including increased medical screening and booking restrictions that allow corrections officers to refuse to jail people whose medical conditions are so precarious they require hospitalization.
County corrections officers now talk about how the growing use of heroin and other opioids has turned the jail into the community’s largest detox center.
Moore said that one reason Kronberger’s family brought the lawsuit is to ensure that the county makes lasting changes. They want to see the jail apply for national accreditation, a step that would demonstrate some “significant proof of reforms,” she said. The county just months prior to Kronberger’s death had settled another case involving an inmate’s death with promises of seeking accreditation. To date, that hasn’t happened.
“What have they done?” Moore wondered.
Despite her struggles with drugs, Kronberger was described in an online memorial as happy, outgoing and spiritual. She was born in North Dakota and moved to Everett with her family in 1991. She was involved in basketball, soccer, track and cheerleading. She graduated from Everett High School in 2008 and married two years later.
The lawsuit alleges the county is liable for violating her civil rights, negligence and the tort of outrage. A damage claim filed with the county earlier sought up to $10 million.
The Brewe Layman law firm also represents the family of Bill Williams, a mentally ill man who died of a heart attack in the jail in 2012 after being shocked twice with an electric stun gun. A lawsuit was filed in that case, too. Everett attorneys Mitch Cogdill and Todd Nichols also are working the cases.
Scott North: 425-339-3431; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @snorthnews.