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Woodbury County Law Enforcement Center

The Woodbury County Law Enforcement Center, which houses the Woodbury County Jail, is shown in a 2015 file photo. A former jail inmate has sued the county, claiming he was given inadequate medical care after suffering a stroke while in custody.

SIOUX CITY | A former Woodbury County Jail inmate has sued the county and Mercy Medical Center, claiming that medical personnel failed to take immediate action after he suffered a stroke while in custody two years ago.

James Merchant said that after reporting weakness and numbness in his right side in the afternoon, he was left in the nurse's bay overnight before he was evaluated the next morning and taken to Mercy Medical Center, where he was diagnosed as having had a stroke.

Rather than provide adequate medical treatment, the county "decided to take the easier and less efficacious course of medical treatment and denied Merchant hospitalization," Merchant's attorney, John Carroll, of Omaha, said in the lawsuit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Sioux City.

Merchant says the county's actions violated his constitutional rights to due process and to be free from cruel and unusual punishment by subjecting him to pretrial detention without appropriate medical care.

Also named in the suit were Woodbury County Sheriff Dave Drew, Lt. Lynette Phillips, Sgt. Al Shinkunas. Physician assistant Michael Bobier and nurses David Stultz and Perla Solis, all Mercy employees, were also named. The county contracts with Mercy to provide medical care for jail inmates.

Woodbury County Sheriff Maj. Greg Stallman, who oversees the jail, said he had not yet read the lawsuit and could not comment. Drew was out of the office Monday and unavailable for comment.

According to the lawsuit, Merchant was incarcerated July 10, 2014, to Aug. 20, 2014, after having been charged with failure to appear and escape. At about 2 p.m. on Aug. 19, inmates alerted jail personnel that Merchant was having medical problems. Merchant, 49 at the time, was found sitting on the floor in front of the shower entrance holding his head and having difficulty lifting his right foot. His condition progressed to his upper right extremities and he developed slurred speech.

He was taken to a nurse's station, and an unnamed provider was called. That provider, the suit said, ordered that Merchant's condition be monitored.

Later that afternoon, Stultz documented that Merchant was alert and oriented. In the evening, Merchant reported to Solis that he couldn't move his right side and that it was numb. She told him that a provider would evaluate him in the morning.

The lawsuit said that Merchant wasn't seen from 10:30 p.m. until 7:57 a.m. on Aug. 20, when he was evaluated by Bobier. Merchant was then transported by ambulance to Mercy Medical Center and diagnosed with he was diagnosed as having had a stroke. He spent two days in the hospital, then underwent physical, occupational and speech therapy.

He was committed to the Iowa Department of Corrections in September 2014 to serve a five-year prison sentence for theft and burglary. He was released from prison in August 2015 and is scheduled to be released from parole on Saturday.

Merchant, who is filing the suit in addition to his conservator, Randy Hisey, of Sioux City, is seeking an unspecified amount of damages to compensate for past and future medical expenses, loss of wages and future earning capacity, pain and suffering. He is also seeking punitive damages.


Court reporter

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