Macomb County sued over inmate’s drug withdrawal death

Holly Fournier
The Detroit News

Mount Clemens — A man jailed for a driving infraction in Macomb County died in custody last year after more than two weeks of rapid weight loss, hallucinations and seizures caused by untreated withdrawal symptoms, according to a federal lawsuit filed by his brother.

David Stojcevski died June 27, 2014, after serving 16 days of a 30-day sentence for failing to appear on a careless driving charge, according to the lawsuit, filed in March in U.S. District Court. The sentence was in lieu of a $772 fine.

An autopsy determined cause of death was “acute withdrawal” after Stojcevski was denied prescribed doses of methadone, Xanax, Klonopin and oxycodone, according to the complaint.

“He was sent to a relatively short period of time in jail, and while he was in jail, he was treated in a woefully inadequate manner, if at all, for the medical issues from which he suffered,” attorney Robert Ihrie said Thursday.

Footage from Stojcevski’s cell shows the inmate steadily lost weight as he suffered apparent withdrawal symptoms. He appeared to hallucinate, arguing with people who were not in his cell. At one point, he crawled under the cell’s bunk bed and later lay in the middle of the cell, his body shaking with seizures.

His condition continued to deteriorate until he was found June 27 struggling to breathe inside his cell, according to the complaint. He was rushed to McLaren Regional Hospital in Mount Clemens, where he was pronounced dead.

Stojcevski weighed 195 pounds at intake but lost around 50 pounds — or 25 percent of his body weight — in the 16 days before his death, according to the lawsuit.

The suit, filed by Stojcevski’s brother, targets Macomb County, Sheriff Anthony Wickersham, various jail employees and Correct Care Solutions, which is contracted by the county to provide medical care at the jail. It seeks “a substantial sum” in addition to court costs, attorney fees and punitive damages, Ihrie said.

“They are also seeking policy changes so that this kind of failure on the part of the defendants never happens again,” he said.

Stojcevski may have been eligible for release eight days before his death, according to the complaint. A court order filed June 19 indicated Stojcevski could be released if enrolled in the Community Corrections March Program, where he would perform community service.

“By failing to meet their obligation to fully implement the afore-cited court order, defendants ... caused David (Stojcevski) to stay in the Macomb County Jail, contrary to the 39th District Court amended disposition order allowing for David’s release,” attorneys said in the complaint.

The lawsuit also alleges mistreatment of Stojcevski’s brother, Vladimir Stojcevski, who filed the complaint after he was arrested the same day as his brother.

Vladimir Stojcevski has alleged employees refused to allow him to clean himself after incidents of vomiting, incontinence and seizures during 12 days of incarceration. He ultimately was taken to McLaren Regional Hospital for treatment June 23.

An attorney with the county’s Corporation Counsel declined to comment in detail Thursday on the allegations.

“Being familiar with the facts and circumstances, I am confident the county will prevail in its defense of this matter,” Macomb County attorney John Schapka said.

An attorney for Correct Care Solutions said his client does not comment on pending litigation.

A judge will consider a request to dismiss the lawsuit on Oct. 14, according to the Associated Press.

The complaint accuses jail personnel of ignoring David Stojcevski’s “excruciating pain and misery” caused by withdrawal symptoms that ultimately led to his death.

At least one employee at intake June 11 knew Stojcevski had been prescribed methadone, according to the lawsuit. The employee allegedly “failed to verify” the information and sent Stojcevski to the jail’s medical detox unit without the medication.

Officials should have known immediately about all of Stojcevski’s prescriptions, Ihrie said.

“The jail has access to a central registry to determine what medications an inmate is on,” he said. “They could have — and should have — determined what (Stojcevski’s) needs were both from talking to our client, who gave information to them, and also securing the information from the central registry.”

During Stojcevski’s first days in jail, various employees administered medications to treat muscle cramps, vomiting and diarrhea, according to the complaint. They did not provide his prescribed medications, sporadically assessed withdrawal symptoms and skipped scheduled medical assessments.

On June 15, an employee determined Stojcevski’s withdrawal was complete.

His stability began to unravel two days later, when medical staff on June 17 observed him “lying on bed twitching his eyes,” according to the complaint. His vital signs were obtained but not recorded and he was taken from the detox unit for a medical examination.

Later that day, an employee noted Stojcevski was “hallucinating, talking to people that are not there and also stated that he died earlier today,” according to the complaint. Stojcevski was transferred to a mental health unit, where he was “vaguely responsive” and told a staff member his organs were removed and his arms were shredded.

During this encounter, he informed the employee that he had been prescribed Xanax and oxycodone for pain, attorneys said. The staff member allegedly failed to tell a physician about Stojcevski’s altered mental state and disclosure about his medication.

The next day, Stojcevski told a different employee he also routinely took prescribed Klonopin for anxiety but could not recall his pharmacy, according to the complaint. He also said he previously had been hospitalized for anxiety but could not recall the hospital.

After 10 days of incarceration, Stojcevski asked an employee June 21 if he would be receiving his prescriptions while in jail, attorneys said in the complaint. The staff member allegedly said the “medication has not been ordered at this time.”

Stojcevski died six days later, according to the complaint.

Ihrie said Stojcevski’s treatment fell far short of acceptable.

“(It was) inattention, neglect, failure to monitor, inadequate medical care, violation of inmate medical protocols, mistreatment,” Ihrie said. “The behavior on the part of all who were tasked with, at the very least, keeping him alive fell woefully short to the point of being deliberately indifferent.”

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