$10 million lawsuit filed against Macomb County Jail over inmate's overdose death

Daniel Byrd died of prescription drug overdose in November 2015

MACOMB COUNTY, Mich. - The controversy surrounding the Macomb County Jail took another turn this week as a new multi-million dollar lawsuit has been filed over an inmate's death.

Daniel Byrd, 42, overdosed on prescription pills while in custody in November 2015. The Local 4 Defenders investigated Byrd's death as part of an ongoing look into an unusually high number of in-custody deaths.

The lawsuit is asking for $10 million. It was filed against Macomb County, the Macomb County Jail and the private medical company Correct Care Solutions.

Byrd's family said they hope this forces the county to make drastic changes in who they lock up and how inmates are treated.

Local 4 had exclusive video of Byrd's body being wheeled out of the Macomb County Jail. The cause of death was intoxication by multiple prescription medications. It was troubling that Byrd died on his 23rd day behind bars for a nonviolent probation violation.

There is very little chance Byrd smuggled drugs into the jail and hid them for so long, so where did he get methadone, a drug the jail doesn't even prescribe?

"Was it the guards giving it to him?" asked Greg Rohl, Byrd's family's attorney. "The medical staff couldn't give it to him. Was it another patient? An inmate?"

Byrd's sister fought repeatedly to get answers. She hopes the lawsuit will force jail staff members to come clean on her brother's death.

"I just want the Macomb County Jail and any other jail to give them dignity," said Malinda Odisho, Byrd's sister. "Do what's right. Change whatever is not working. Don't let other families feel the way I do."

Byrd's cellmate went to staff members to tell them there was something clearly wrong with Byrd.

"He was getting kookier and kookier," Byrd's cellmate said. "He was getting worse and worse."

The family wants to put a stop to the unusually high number of deaths and suicides at the Macomb County Jail, hoping the case will send a strong message.

"One time, two times, three times, four times," Rohl said. "When does it stop? When are they forced to be accountable?"

The lawsuit said the medical staff should have responded to Byrd's illness and recognized that he needed to be hospitalized. Byrd died on his jail cell floor.

Local 4 reached out to Macomb County Corporation Council for comment, but we have not received a response.

PAST COVERAGE: MACOMB COUNTY JAIL ISSUES

April 2015: Michael Piotrowski

 

Michael Piotrowski, 39, died in April 2015 within 24 hours of entering the Macomb County Jail, and Daniel Byrd, 42, died on his 23rd day in custody. Both men suffered fatal prescription drug overdoses, raising serious new questions about the Macomb County Jail.

Weekend-only inmates serving time for minor offenses stay on the gym floor after they're put up against the wall and told to change from street clothes to jail jump suits. There were 25 cots lined up in rows as a guard frisked each inmate, searching for drugs. Piotrowski was a member of the group.

"They should have seen that there was something not normal, not right," said Andrea Piotrowski, Michael Piotrowski's mother.

Michael Piotrowski, a father of four, was serving time on weekends for child support. When everyone else lay down, Michael Piotrowski didn't. He ran his hands through his hair repeatedly, changed his shirts, took laps around the gym and leaned against the wall to look under chairs.

When Michael Piotrowski finally lay down, an inmate next to him sat up and called for help. Everyone was ordered to line up against the wall as the jail staff members made their way to Piotrowski. They kicked his bed, and when he didn't move, they turned him over and realized that he was in trouble.

Staff members started to perform CPR while medical officials and an ambulance arrived. But Piotrowski was already dead.

"I just really miss my son," Andrea Piotrowski said. "We were so close. We were so close. There wasn't a day that he didn't stop by or come over, and losing a child is the worst loss there is."

An internal investigation found inmates who said Piotrowski was acting strange before his death, even talking to himself. One inmate said Piotrowski told him that he took methadone and other medication before arriving so he could sleep all weekend.

Piotrowski's official cause of death was intoxication from multiple prescription medications. The family's attorney said jail staff should have noticed and provided medical attention.

"Not one guard saw fit to come up and take care of him or question him to see if he was OK, take him to the clinic, nothing," attorney Greg Rohl said. "He essentially succumbed right on tape. You can see him die right before your own eyes."

November 2015: Daniel Byrd

 

Byrd died in custody seven months after Piotrowski. Byrd died from intoxication from multiple prescription medications. His family knew of his addiction and thought he would be safer in jail than on the street.

"You think that the jails are safe and secure and they would know how to properly detox, how to keep their jails free of anybody passing away," said Malianda Odisho, Byrd's niece.

Byrd was behind bars for 23 days on a probation violation. He couldn't have taken the drugs at home, so he must have found them in the Macomb County Jail. Rohl said he had methadone in his system, and doctors don't prescribe methadone to prisoners.

"The medical staff couldn't give it to him," Rohl said, adding that Byrd might have gotten the drugs from another inmate.

Just hours before Byrd's death, his cellmate buzzed security officials, saying that something wasn't right.

"He kept getting kookier and kookier and kookier, and then he was on the floor and it got worse and worse," Byrd's cellmate said.

The inmate said he wanted to be moved away from Byrd for his own safety.

"I told the officer (Byrd was getting worse), and he was just, like, 'Yep,' and no one gave a f***," he said.

The two cellmates were separated, and Byrd died alone in his cell from an overdose. Byrd's family has no official answer for how he could have overdosed in the jail.

"I wish that I got to say goodbye," Odisho said.

The Defenders have now learned of four deaths in the Macomb County Jail.

"One time, two times, three times, four times," Rohl said. "When does it stop? When are they forced to be held accountable?"

"I just want Macomb County Jail and any other jail that is similar to give dignity and do what is right," Odisho said. "Change what is not working. Don't let other families feel what I feel."

Local 4 asked the Macomb County sheriff for an interview to discuss the two deaths, but the office declined. It gave no written response to our story.

Both families said they are disappointed with the lack of explanations coming from the jail, and they plan to file lawsuits to force the administration to answer their questions.

You can learn more about previous issues at the Macomb County Jail below.

July 2013: Jennifer Myers dies

 

On July 7, 2013, 37-year-old Jennifer Meyers died in the Macomb County Jail after she was sentenced to 30 days behind bars for not paying child support.

The Defenders obtained exclusive video statements from two women who were in the jail and information from the people who found Meyers' body.

"We've got to check her pulse, and she went like this," a witness said. "She is ice cold."

Video shows Meyers' body being taken out in a body bag on a stretcher.

"She wasn't responding to me, and the minute I touched her she felt like she was in a meat freezer," a witness said.

Meyers died from a virus that moved slowly through her body over 12 days. Neither the Sheriff's Department guards nor the privately contracted medical staff took her to a hospital.

"Obviously, when somebody comes in to the jail, the punishment is being there," said Robert Ihrie, the Meyers family's attorney. "The punishment isn't to die."

Ihrie claims in a federal lawsuit that jail guards and privately contracted medical staff failed to see something that was obvious to other inmates.

"It looked like she had just gotten out of the shower and she was sweating so bad," a witness said.

The inmates said they put wet towels on Meyers' body, trying to cool her down. They said the illness was not sudden and that she was becoming increasingly ill each day of her incarceration.

"Nobody ever came in to check on her and see if she was OK," a witness said. "She wasn't eating. She wasn't drinking."

In her final three days, Meyers was too sick to get off her cot at meal time.

"She was literally lying in bed, cuddled up like this, not even able to move," a witness said.

In jail, requests for medical attention are called kites. Inmates said they were ignored.

"She was kiting all the time and the nurses wouldn't do anything about it," a witness said.

"She gave them the kite," another witness said. "She said she could barely get out of bed. She was trying to hand them a piece of paper. (The nurse) said, 'You're going to have to give it to midnight staff or morning staff. I can't do (anything) about it.'"

"I saw her hand it to the nurse, and then she said, 'You have to give this to the morning person or the night person.' She wouldn't take it," a witness said.

If Meyers was evaluated, she was not determined to be sick enough to go to the hospital.

Witnesses said Meyers begged for help for days before she died. The family is trying to get answers about why she was never taken to the hospital.

Local 4 medical expert Dr. Frank McGeorge said the signs of illness and the foul smell should have warranted an in-depth examination by jail medical staff and a trip to the hospital.

"To leave them in jail with an infection that ultimately leads to their death, it's just about the same as putting them to death," McGeorge said.

"She's not feeling well and the nurses aren't doing crap about it and the officers don't give her the time of day," a witness said.

Meyers' parents said their daughter was more than an inmate. She was a mother, a daughter and a sister. They said she almost didn't make it into the world, because she was born premature, weighting 3 pounds, 5.5 ounces. She barely survived.

When Meyers was sentenced to jail time, there was a sense of relief.

"You just think, 'Good, I know where she is,'" Diane Hubble said. "I don't have to worry about her that she's safe, that she will be fed, she will be taken care of. If she gets sick, she will have medical care."

Meyers' parents found out that their daughter died from acute sepsis, a virus that made her very sick. According to a federal lawsuit, jail and medical staff never took her to a hospital.

"They explained that, you know, they saw Jennifer at breakfast, saw Jennifer at lunchtime, and when she didn't show up for dinner, they found her dead on the floor," Russell Hubble said.

When the Hubbles demanded information about the death, the story didn't add up.

"Well, she was in there 10 days, she lost 17 pounds," Diane Hubble said. "That's a lot of weight. That's a lot of weight to lose. The last four or five days, she was sick and progressively got worse. Many inmates have come forward."

Read more about Meyers' case:

June 2014: David Stojcevski dies

 

David Stojcevski, 32, of Roseville, went to the Macomb County Jail for an unpaid traffic ticket, and he never made it out.

Officials said Stojcevski had extreme weight loss over his 17 days in day. Near the end of his stay, he was so weak he couldn't get off the floor or call for help.

Stojcevski's family said jail guards and medical staff members neglected him, and it was all captured on video. The graphic video shows Stojcevski slowly dying in a high-observation unit of the Macomb County Jail.

"It's unconscionable that they let this human being suffer like this," addiction expert Donna Rockwell said.

According to a federal lawsuit obtained by the Local 4 Defenders, Stojcevski was arrested for obstruction of justice as part of a careless driving charge. The complaint said he couldn't pay a $772 fine so he was ordered to spend 30 days in the Macomb County Jail.

He lost 50 pounds over the next 17 days, and spent his final two days of life naked on the cold conrete jail cell floor.

"That could be your son or my son," Rockwell said. "I'm shocked. Honestly, I'm shocked to think that we are in the United States of America and an affluent suburb."

The Defenders showed Rockwell the video that shows Stojcevski twitching and shaking on the jail cell floor.

"I can't believe anybody was in charge of looking at this video or looking at this camera and didn't do anything to help this human being," Rockwell said.

McGeorge is classified as an expert in in-custody death cases.

"There's no reason for a person that's incarcerated who's been watched for this period of time to die in custody," McGeorge said. "He should have had medical attention."

Stojcevski grew up in a Macomb County neighborhood and went to school, played sports and had a variety of jobs. But he also became addicted to drugs at a young age.

His family said he was seeing a doctor to fight his addiction. The doctor prescribed methadone, Xanax and klonopin, and without the prescriptions, his body would go into severe withdrawal.

When Stojcevski was sent to jail as part of a sweep of Macomb County residents with active arrest warrants, a nurse evaluated him and recommended that he be placed in the medical drug detox unit. Instead, he went to a jail cell.

Six days later, he was acting erratic and was moved to a mental health cell and under suicide watch. That's where the last 11 days of his life were video taped.

"People don't die from withdrawal all the time," McGeorge said. "They die from withdrawal when there's neglect associated with it."

As the days wore on in the mental health cell, the medical attention for Stojcevski decreased. At times, video shows Stojcevski's cellmates eating his food as he sleeps. He hid under his bed to get away from the lights that stayed on around the clock.

"It looks like an animal is climbing underneath something to die," Rockwell said.

His body had spasms and his muscled twitched. Experts said those are clear signs of a person suffering from withdrawal. 

"There's not one second of looking at that video where I think that he might be faking," Rockwell said. "It is obvious he is not faking."

On the eighth day, Stojcevski started to act erratic again, getting into a fight with another inmate. Guards cleared the others from the cell and left Stojcevski alone. A few minutes later, video shows him re-enacting the fight. Experts said he was likely hallucinating, a common symptom of serious withdrawal from his prescription medications.

Stojcevski then sat with his legs folded for several hours before lying down. He wouldn't get up again.

"I think there are so many points in this video where someone who had any humanity would look at this person and say, 'I'd better figure out whether they need help,'" Rockwell said.

Stojcevski lay on the floor for 48 hours as his body prepared to die. Guards are required to watch prisoners in that ward via security cameras and monitors and take notes on their conditions every 15 minutes. Stojcevski should have been checked 96 times a day, but the video shows that his food went untouched as he lay on the floor dying.

When guards finally went into Stojcevski's cell, the officers are seen radioing for help. A guard tried to give CPR, and several other officials filled the room. He was put on a stretcher, taken to a hospital and pronounced dead.

His cause of death was acute withdrawal from medications.

Read more about Stojcevski's case:

March 2016: Jessica Preston gives birth on cell floor

 

Jessica Preston said it was the most terrifying day of her life when she was forced to give birth to her son on the floor of a cell at the Macomb County Jail.

It's a personal story that's hard for her to tell, but she spoke to Dietz about what happened in the hope that nobody ever has to go through what happened to her.

"I wouldn't want that happening to my worst enemy, anybody else, and that's why I am telling this story," Preston said. "I would never want it happening to anyone ever again."

Elijha was born on a dirty floor mat in a cell at the Macomb County Jail. It was a dangerous delivery that never would have happened if jail medical staff members had taken Preston to the hospital. Preston told the staff three times that she was having her baby, but they didn't believe her and made her go back to her cell.

The birth of her son is on video, and Preston talked throughout it. It was a bold decision on her part, to bring attention to what she said was a lack of human dignity at the Macomb County Jail.

"When I was on the floor, (I was) like, 'Please don't let me have this baby in here. Please just call an ambulance,'" Preston said.

"Having a baby in a dirty, nasty place is just not a good thing, because it opens the risk to infections, whether it's the baby or it's the mother," McGeorge said.

Elijha was born a month early and weighed fewer than 5 pounds.

The story began a few days earlier in Warren. Preston was pulled over because she had a rosary hanging from her rearview mirror. The officer said the cross and beads were an obstruction of view.

"I wasn't speeding," Preston said. "I wasn't driving recklessly."

But Preston was driving with a suspended license. At eight months' pregnant, she was arrested and sent to see a judge.

"She gave me a very high bond, even though it was my first driving on a suspended (license)," Preston said. "A very high bond."

Preston had to pay a $10,000 cash bond or sit in jail for 14 days while her hearing was scheduled. The baby arrived on her fifth day in jail.

"About 7:30 (a.m.), you know, you press the little button (and) it buzzes their tower," Preston said. "I told the deputies, I said, 'I'm the one that's eight months' pregnant in here, and I think I'm in labor and I need to go down to medical.'"

Surveillance video shows Preston walking to the medical area, where she saw a nurse. There's no audio on the video, but Preston said the medical staff didn't believe her.

"(They said), 'We don't believe you," Preston said. "'We think you're lying and you're not in labor. We'd be able to tell. There are certain things that are more apparent, so go back to your cell.'"

Video shows Preston leaving the medical area and going back to D block, where she said other inmates were worried.

"One of them got a cool washcloth for my forehead, was dabbing my forehead," Preston said. "One of them was actually previously a registered nurse, so actually, she was rubbing my back during the contractions."

Preston said she hit the buzzer again around 11:30 a.m. Video shows her walking to the medical area again.

"This time, they were very rude when they told me they didn't believe me and I was called a liar and told to knock my crap off or they could put another charge on me," Preston said.

Preston returned to her cell, but she was back 90 minutes later with blood running down her leg. The deputy had her pack up and made her carry her belongings to a cell next to the medical area.

Video shows Preston lying down, but not for long. She yelled for help, and when the nurse arrived, the baby was crowning.

It was too late for an ambulance to come, so Elijha was born on the jail cell floor.

In total, Preston asked the medical staff for help three times, but nobody believed her.

Read more about Preston's case:

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