A 37-year-old Michigan woman sentenced to 30 days in Macomb County, Michigan jail for falling behind on child support payments died 12 days into her sentence, reports Detroit 4.
A federal lawsuit claims that jail staff ignored Jennifer Meyers’ pleas for help as a virus that eventually caused sepsis flared in her body.
According to witness testimony in video footage obtained by Detroit 4, Jennifer Meyers was visibly ill, unable to get out of bed and sweating profusely. “It looked like she had just gotten out of the shower and she was sweating so bad,” one of the witnesses said. Other inmates tried to cool her with wet towels.
“Nobody ever came in to check on her and see if she was OK. She wasn’t eating. She wasn’t drinking,” a witness recalled. Witnesses also claimed that she repeatedly asked for medical help, but staff didn’t take her to the hospital.
“She was literally laying in bed, cuddled up like this, not even able to move,” a witness says of her last few days. She finally got the attention of jail staff when a witness touched her and realized she was dead. “She wasn’t responding to me, and the minute I touched her she felt like she was in a meat freezer,” the witness said.
“To leave them in jail with an infection that ultimately leads to death, is just about the same as putting to death,” a medical expert told WDIV 4. He also pointed out that her symptoms and the foul smell of sepsis should have alerted staff to how sick she was. In her last few days other inmates berated her to shower because of the stench. She likely died alone in her cell while other inmates were at mealtime.
According to her parents Meyers got hooked on pain meds after suffering a back injury. Eventually she turned to heroin.
“It’s horrible,” her mother told Detroit 4. “It is. It’s devastating. It destroyed her.” Her husband got custody of the kids—she wasn’t able to keep up with child support and got caught in a sweep.
“They are very proud of that in Macomb County — how they sweep people up for child support and incarcerate them,” her father said.
Incidentally, the Meyers’ family isn’t the only one suing Macomb County jail for ignoring a sick inmate until they died.
The family of David Stojefski is also seeking answers about why their son—serving a 30 day sentence for unpaid traffic tickets—was allowed to go through excruciating drug withdrawals until he died. As Detroit 4 reports, video footage shows him suffering violent seizures. “Hospital staff tried to save him when he was found on the floor gasping for air, but it was too late,” writes reporter Kevin Dietz.
In the past few decades, the number of people held in jail has exploded, straining the resources of facilities initially designed to detain far fewer people, for shorter amounts of time. In 1970 approximately 157,000 people were held in jails—by 2014, that number skyrocketed to 745,000 people, according to a report by the Vera Institute of Justice.
“Intended to house those deemed to be a danger to society or a flight risk before trial, jails have become massive warehouses primarily for those too poor to post even low amounts of bail or too sick for existing community resources to manage,” the report’s authors note. Far from being filled with violent criminals, many jails are crowded with people incarcerated for minor infractions, like Meyers and Stojefski—who died over child support and traffic tickets.