Beaufort News

Widow whose husband died in county jail settles lawsuit

Beaufort County and the company that provides medical services at its detention center have settled a wrongful-death lawsuit brought by the family of a man who died after being restrained at the county jail.

Jesse Greer, 46, was arrested at a Burton bus station Dec. 27, 2007. He was charged with malicious injury to personal property and resisting arrest after he allegedly threw a wristwatch at a bus window.

He died in custody on Jan. 1, 2008.

Greer's widow alleges that her husband's death was caused by the negligence and recklessness of the county and medical contractor Southern Health Partners. She filed suits against both, the first in November 2009.

On New Year's Eve of 2007, Beaufort County Detention Center staff went to Greer's cell because he was kicking and banging on the door. Asked why he was agitated, Greer responded: "I'm the son of the devil, and my wife and children are children of Jesus Christ, and as soon as I can get this door down, me and my family are getting out of here," court documents state.

Detention center staff ordered Greer away from the door and shot pepper spray through the food port when he refused. According to deposition testimony, Greer began to lick the pepper spray and stated how much he loved the taste.

He was then forcibly removed from the cell by several people, held on the booking-room floor, fitted with a spit mask and placed in a restraint chair.

The complaint states that moments after returning him to the cell, staff "noticed that Greer's color in his face was turning ashen and that his head had tilted back and his eyes were rolling back."

A nurse started CPR and Greer was transported to Beaufort Memorial Hospital, but he never regained consciousness.

An autopsy ruled the death natural, "the result of excited delirium, likely due to chronic methamphetamine use," court documents state.

Jonathan Arden, a medical doctor and expert witness identified by Greer's widow, agreed that delirium and drug use probably contributed to Greer's death. However, Greer was asphyxiated by the chest-straps that held him to the chair, he said.

"The straps that were tight across his chest caused compression that compromised his ability to breathe until he suffered a respiratory and cardiac arrest," Arden wrote.

The complaint alleges -- among other things -- that the county and Southern Health failed to give Greer a mental exam after previous unstable behavior, restrained him improperly and responded inadequately to his medical emergency.

Donald Leach, a criminal-justice expert witness for the defense, wrote that the force used on Greer was not excessive. Moreover, detention-center staff said in depositions that Greer was placed in restraints in part for his own safety. He was bleeding from banging his head on the cell door, a nurse said.

The parties agreed Aug. 4 to settle for $284,500.

Southern Health will pay $192,000. The S.C. Insurance Reserve Fund, which defends Beaufort County in certain liability suits, will pay $92,500.

One of Greer's attorneys, Jim Brown, declined to comment. Attempts Friday to reach Greer's other attorney, Thomas Killoren of Spartanburg, and an attorney representing the county, Marshall Waldron, were unsuccessful.

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