Columbia County inmate death brings suit

Family of man who died last year in custody sues in federal court

The family of a Columbia County jail inmate who died in custody last year has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Sheriff Clay Whittle and the jail’s medical staff.

The complaint, filed Friday in U.S. District Court, includes an affidavit from Dr. Harlan Luke, who says that after reviewing medical records, he thinks “the nurses who treated John Wayne Siple violated the standards of care exercised by nurses in general.”

Siple, 44, of Hereford Farm Road, was arrested March 24 and charged with manufacturing marijuana after 86 plants and growing equipment were taken from his home, according to past reports. Luke’s affidavit says that Siple was experiencing withdrawal from the painkiller Xanax and that employees of the contracted medical provider, Southern Health Partners Inc., should have known he needed medical attention.

On the day he died, April 5, his body temperature was 94.5 degrees around 10 a.m., but a non-emergency transport to Doctors Hospital wasn’t requested until 1:30 p.m., the lawsuit says. During a shower to prepare him for transport, Siple collapsed without a pulse and was taken to Doctors Hospital, where he died at 3:44 p.m., according to the suit.

An autopsy report dated July 7 lists the cause of death as hypertensive cardiovascular disease. Luke doesn’t dispute the cause of death in his affidavit, but says the medical staff’s inattention to Siple’s symptoms exacerbated the condition that led to cardiac arrest. An attorney for the Siple family said he could not comment Tuesday.

Capt. Steve Morris, the spokesman for the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office, said last year that jail medical staffers followed protocol for treating inmates arriving with substance abuse issues. He said inmates “detoxing” are carefully watched.

More