Justice Served in Multi-Million Dollar Civil Rights Lawsuit Against Lincoln County Jail

EUGENE, OR. — Jennifer Middleton of Johnson Johnson Lucas & Middleton and Tom Melville of Gresham Injury Law Center announced a major win for inmate civil rights.

A settlement was reached between the family of Bradley Thomas and Lincoln County for $2.85 million. On April 8, 2015, Thomas died of significant dehydration and starvation while in the care and custody of the Lincoln County Jail.

Middleton and Melville filed the civil rights lawsuit against Lincoln County on behalf of Thomas’ family and estate on April 1, 2016. The lawsuit alleged jail staff failed to provide Thomas with medical care or medication despite documenting his increasingly odd behavior and loss of ability to walk or even speak.

“Jails and prisons throughout the state increasingly have to manage people struggling with mental illness. That includes providing appropriate medical care, not just locking them up and ignoring the problem,” Middleton said. “This case shows there is a price to pay when jails treat the mentally ill as disposable.”

Thomas was booked into the Lincoln County Jail on March 23, 2015, on misdemeanor allegations. It was immediately obvious that Mr. Thomas had severe mental health issues. At times, Thomas was observed throwing food, smearing feces in his cell, even licking feces off the walls. His water was turned off, he quit eating and drinking and wasn’t taken to the hospital to get help. At the end, he could no longer even ask for help.

In early April 2015, a Lincoln County Health & Human Services mental health investigator testified that Thomas was bi-polar, couldn’t fend for himself and could harm others. He was committed to the state hospital for 180 days. That night, jail staff observed Thomas lying naked on the cold floor beside his bunk. Jail staff failed to call mental health services or provide any emergency response. The next morning, Thomas was found dead in his jail cell alone. It was a long and solitary death.

“I am angry that my son died naked and alone,“ said Catherine Thomas, Thomas’s mother. “Nobody should have to die like that.”

“Justice and accountability are core principles in our society. Lincoln County’s payment represents their accountability and is the only form of justice our system provides,” said Tom Melville. “We hope this case is a message, not only to Lincoln County, but all of Oregon’s jails, that ‘care and custody’ actually means that the basic needs of the weakest and most vulnerable are met.”

As Thomas’ younger brother, Ron Thomas, said at the beginning of this case: “Being mentally ill should not come with a death sentence in Lincoln County.”