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Autopsy Scheduled for LaPorte County Inmate Death

Steve Wagner

An autopsy report is supposed to be released soon, following the death of a LaPorte County inmate who died in custody over the weekend.

The prisoner, Rachel Barnes from Valparaiso, IN, was arrested last Friday night on a misdemeanor charge of driving while intoxicated. Barnes’ blood alcohol level was .447, which more than five times the legal limit of .08.

The police report states that Barnes had driven her vehicle into a pond, and the vehicle had become completely submerged. After her arrest, she was booked into LaPorte County Jail early Saturday morning. Later that night, police say that they noticed on monitoring cameras that Barnes appeared very still in her cell. Around 1:30 a.m., they went to check on her, and found her unresponsive.

According to reports, police attempted CPR and a defibrillator to resuscitate her, but they were not successful in their efforts. We are all waiting to hear what the coroner determines as the cause of death in this case, and whether it was a natural cause, or something that could have been avoided with better care.

Based on my experience handling jail death cases over the last 20 years, we should keep a close eye on this case to see if it involved delirium tremens (DTs), the most serious form of alcohol withdrawal. DTs is a medical emergency which requires inpatient hospital care. If a patient suffering from DTs is hospitalized, the condition is rarely fatal. Jail officers are trained to be on the lookout for alcohol and drug withdrawal during the intake process. Often times, inmates at risk for DTs are placed on closer observation to monitor for symptoms such hallucinations and seizures, the hallmarks of DTs.

Another question which will need to be answered in this case is why Ms. Barnes was not first taken to a hospital instead of admitted to the jail. Most jails have policies requiring hospitalization if and arrestee has a BAC over .25. Indeed, the BAC level reported in this case could alone be responsible for Ms. Barnes’ death due to acute alcohol intoxication. In short, whether due to acute alcohol intoxication or the risk of DTs, Ms. Barnes should’ve been taken to the hospital (at least initially), not the jail.

Unfortunately, jail deaths are far too common in our state. Our office alone is currently handling eight jail death cases, a disturbing statistic in and of itself. As a former attorney for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, I know that these deaths can and should be prevented.

If you have questions regarding a potential jail death case or any civil rights case in Indiana, call today for a free consultation.

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