Pinellas Sheriff’s Office settles wrongful death lawsuit for Over One Million Dollars

The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office has paid $1.15 million to settle a wrongful death lawsuit with the estate of a mentally ill woman who died in the Pinellas County jail after refusing medicine and food.

The payment has settled all state and federal claims against the jail and its employees. Michael DeGraw filed suit over the death of his wife, Jennifer DeGraw, who was found dead in her cell on March 24, 2009.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who was not sheriff at the time of the death, has said that Ms. DeGraw should never have been arrested. When Ms. DeGraw arrived at her husband’s workplace in the midst of an apparent psychotic episode, he called authorities, expecting his wife to be involuntarily hospitalized under Florida’s Baker Act.

However, Ms. DeGraw allegedly kicked a deputy, and she was taken to jail, where she refused food and medicine. She died of a heart attack that resulted from an electrolyte imbalance after spending eight days there.

Gualtieri said that the testimony of a former jail psychiatrist, who admitted that he knew the woman was suffering but took no action, was particularly damaging.

In February, a federal jury decided that former Sheriff Jim Coats was “deliberately indifferent” to DeGraw’s medical condition and recommended an award of $975,000 in damages.