SEBASTIAN COUNTY, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — The family of a developmentally disabled man who died in the custody of Sebastian County Jail on Aug. 29, 2021, filed a federal lawsuit on Friday claiming constitutional violations.
Larry Eugene Price Jr., 50, died after spending a little over a year in Sebastian County Jail where he was found unresponsive, lying in a pool of water and urine, according to the lawsuit. Price was pronounced dead at Mercy Hospital.
The lawsuit states that an autopsy from the Arkansas Medical Examiner’s office ruled acute dehydration and malnutrition as his matter of death. But Sebastian County Sheriff Hobe Runion said in a video statement sent to KNWA/FOX24 Saturday evening that “the autopsy said the inmate died with COVID.”
“Let me make one point very clear – jail staff gave this inmate plenty of food and water every single day and jail medical staff were in regular contact with him,” Sheriff Runion said.
The lawsuit claims that Price was a well-nourished man who weighed 185 pounds when he was arrested on Aug. 19, 2020, but EMTs and hospital personnel at Mercy Hospital estimated his weight to be 90 pounds based on his appearance.
“Our records show that when he entered the jail in August of 2020 his booking form stated he weighed 185 pounds, his autopsy showed he weighed 120 pounds at death,” Sheriff Runion said.
Images in the complaint show an abnormally thin Price with sunken eyes and “profoundly shriveled (or pruned) feet.”
“He was severely mentally ill, sometimes he ate the Styrofoam tray instead of the food on it,” Sheriff Runion said.
In the lawsuit, it states that Price had an IQ of under 55 and that suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. It says he was well-known by Fort Smith officers because he “visited the police station almost every day,” and on Aug. 19 he walked to FSPD acting irrationally.
“At some point, he held out his plainly empty hand as if he was holding a gun and used his index finger to pull an imaginary trigger while verbally threatening officers,” the lawsuit states.
Officers tried to calm him down by offering him a water bottle, according to the lawsuit. He refused to leave and officers had to place him under arrest for the safety and well-being of others and to “otherwise try to calm him.”
Price’s family is suing the private for-profit healthcare corporation, Turn Key Health Clinics, LLC, Sebastian County, Turn Key’s Chief Mental Health Officer, Jawaun Lewis, Nurse Christeena Ferguson and 20 correctional officers.
The family stated in the lawsuit that the defendants listed above violated Price’s Fourteenth Amendment, medical negligence and violation of correctional standards.