Macomb exec defends jail officials after inmate’s death
Mount Clemens — Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel on Thursday condemned as “irresponsible” the attorney for the family of a Roseville man who died last year while being held in the county jail.
“We’ve got an attorney out of St. Clair Shores who’s trying to strong arm us out of $25-30 million,” Hackel said during a press conference with Sheriff Anthony Wickersham and other officials.
Attorney Robert Ihrie is representing the family of David Stojcevski, a 32-year-old Roseville man who died June 27, 2014, at the county jail. The death came after more than two weeks of rapid weight loss, hallucinations and seizures caused by untreated withdrawal symptoms, according to a federal lawsuit filed by the man’s brother.
Ihrie approached county legal officials with the multimillion dollar settlement offer prior to filing the complaint in March, Hackel said.
“He said ‘This is going to be a media spectacle,’” Hackel said of Ihrie’s offer. “Obviously, he made good on his promise.”
Hackel called for decisions in the case to be reserved for the court system.
“The attorney on behalf of the family decided to take this away from the court of law, and into the court of public opinion,” he said. “You talk about an attorney that is being, in my opinion, irresponsible. His behavior, his tactics: Irresponsible.”
Ihrie on Thursday acknowledged meeting with a county attorney but denied making a formal offer or threatening media attention.
“All I can say is that I did my best to try and have a meaningful discussion about this case before it was filed, and I never got a response,” Ihrie said. “And in the first two requests, I never mentioned money whatsoever. So did I strong arm anybody? Of course not.”
The first two requests came in July and November 2014 in the form of letters sent by Ihrie’s office to county attorneys, he said.
“And among other procedural requests, we concluded both letters with the following language: ‘We would welcome the opportunity to discuss this case with you prior to the institution of litigation regarding this matter,’” Ihrie said. “Both letters said that, and neither of those letters mentioned a dollar sum.”
After both requests for a discussion went unanswered, Ihrie met with a county attorney and indicated his clients had the potential to win millions from a federal jury.
“I said, ‘Well, in the federal system, with punitive damages, it could be very high, as high as $25-30 million,’” Ihrie said. “This was not an official offer or anything like that.”
Ihrie denied taking the story to media outlets and said he did not know if Stojcevski’s family was responsible.
“I haven’t even inquired (about) it,” he said. “I haven’t asked that question.”
Cause of death: ‘Acute withdrawal’
Hackel’s comments and Ihrie’s response came days after reports of a federal investigation into the controversial death.
Stojcevski was jailed June 11, 2014, for a driving infraction and died in custody after serving 16 days of a 30-day sentence, according to the lawsuit filed 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.
Hackel on Thursday questioned the validity of several claims in the lawsuit, including Stojcevski’s 50-pound weight loss and injuries suffered by his brother, Vladimir Stojcevski, who was jailed at the same time and was hospitalized after 12 days of incarceration.
“Those facts need to be vetted,” Hackel said, adding that the county maintains Vladimir Stojcevski’s injuries were self-inflicted.
A judge on Oct. 14 is scheduled to consider a request to dismiss the complaint.
Open to a settlement
Hackel acknowledged he found it hard to watch footage of a naked, shaking Stojcevksi shaking on the cell floor, but said jail policy explains the conditions. Officers are trained to be “non-confrontational,” meaning they will not force an inmate to wear clothes or lie in bed, Hackel said.
Wickersham said he encouraged the FBI to meet with him to discuss the case. Earlier this week, he indicated he provided authorities with an internal investigation and approximately 240 hours of in-cell video.
“I offered, I encouraged, I opened the doors,” he said Thursday. “Come on in. Take a look at the investigation; see if we did anything wrong.”
Wickersham declined to address specifics of the case, but condemned a story published last week that broke news of the lawsuit.
“It was unwarranted, not factual, and may have, in my opinion, been published with reckless disregard,” he said.
Wickersham also defended his department, which he said has faced unfair criticism since the story broke.
“Because of my position, I don’t expect an apology,” he said. “But I think the men and women of the Macomb County Sheriff's Department deserve one.”
Ihrie reached out directly to Hackel via text message Thursday before the press conference, according to both men, who acknowledged the text and its contents.
In a copy of the text given to media by Hackel’s office, Ihrie referred to his discussion with a county attorney and said he told the employee he “was concerned that the suit would generate substantial media attention if filed.”
“(The attorney) advised me that the county was not interested in such a discussion,” Ihrie said.
Ihrie in the text said his clients remain open to a settlement.
“I have no interest in embarrassing anybody. I tried to avoid that from the beginning,” Ihrie said in the text. “Perhaps it is a good idea to talk, even at this point. I trust that rational minds can come to a rational decision on this case.”
Hackel rejected the possibility of a settlement paid for by the county.
"I don't even want the insurance company to settle," Hackel said. "But you can rest assured there will be nothing coming out of the county."
Handling substance abuse issues
The suit targets Macomb County, 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 last week.
Correct Care Solutions will take the lead on handling litigation, Hackel said. The company was the sole bidder to provide medical care to inmates in Macomb County, winning a contract that expires at the end of this year.
An attorney for Correct Care Solutions last week said his client does not comment on pending litigation.
Hackel said many in the media and public have drawn conclusions based on roughly three minutes of footage culled from 240 hours recorded inside Stojcevski’s cell.
Ihrie said his office has released all 240 hours to media outlets and did not edit or cut the footage prior to its release. Hackel admitted he had not yet watched the full 240 hours, but was relying on reports by county attorneys who have reviewed the footage.
Hackel repeatedly praised sheriff’s department officials who notified Correct Care Solutions staff as Stojcevski was dying. He singled out one unnamed deputy who he said responded within 30 second to perform CPR after watching a remote live-feed that showed Stojcevski’s chest stop moving inside his cell.
“That officer probably should be given some kind of award because he tried to save this individual,” Hackel said.
Hackel also addressed the county’s fight to address mental illness and substance abuse issues. The county has no facilities other than jail to house and help individuals, he said. Officials are in the middle of a year-long, quarter-million dollar study to find alternative solutions.
“We don’t want them warehoused in our correctional facilities,” Hackel said.
Ihrie said Stojcevski’s family hopes the case will result in changes to the way correctional institutions address substance abuse and mental illness.
“If there’s a silver lining, it’s that the visual component of this case, hopefully, will highlight the issue with respect to how jails and prisons are equipped and how medical care is managed for the sick and addicted,” he said. “That is the family’s primary hope: That their son’s death will generate a meaningful and productive dialogue on these important issues.”