Judge denies defendants extra time in suit over Ovid man’s death

GRAND RAPIDS — A federal judge recently denied defendants in a federal wrongful death lawsuit against Clinton County and hospital officials more time to respond, according to court records.

A motion filed by attorneys for Edward W. Sparrow Hospital Association and several hospital employees sought an extension to file a response was denied, according to an order signed March 2 by U.S. Magistrate Judge Ray Kent. Further proceedings in the case have not yet been scheduled.

According to the suit filed in November 2020 by the family of 26-year-old Ovid man Joseph Hehrer in United States District Court Western District of Michigan on behalf of Rhonda Hehrer, Joseph Hehrer was sick for days while being held in the Clinton County Jail and officials refused to transfer him to a facility to receive medical care. He died at Sparrow in March 2019 of diabetic ketoacidosis.

Clinton County Jail employees, nurses and doctors had “subjective, objective, and/or actual knowledge of Hehrer’s deteriorating health condition and continuously showed substantial disregard to his condition,” the suit claims.

The lawsuit names approximately 25 people, including Clinton County Sheriff Lawrence Jerue, Jail Administrator Thomas Wirth, Advanced Correctional Healthcare and Sparrow Health System. Attorneys for several of the defendants have filed motions and affidavits to have their clients removed from the lawsuit, claiming they provided an adequate standard of care, but court records do not indicate whether a ruling has been made on those requests.

According to the suit, Hehrer was arrested Jan. 23, 2019, by Clinton County sheriff’s deputies for a second-offense OWI (presence of drugs) and probation violation related to a Jan. 18, 2019, car crash on East Colony and North Chandler roads. Following that crash, Hehrer’s breathing was “labored and shallow.”

Hehrer was intubated and transferred to Sparrow Health System in Lansing, where he was evaluated for traumatic injuries and given intravenous fluids. His condition improved, and tests showed elevated glucose levels.

The lawsuit states Hehrer was denied bond in the case because he was on probation for a prior OWI and he was lodged in the jail. According to the lawsuit, he began exhibiting signs of illness March 4, 2019, and “not being able to hold food down.”

Hehrer submitted a sick call request to jail staff March 5, 2019, complaining of “fever, queasiness, headaches in and out, heartburn constantly throughout the day; have puked a couple times.”

On March 6, 2019, Hehrer was moved for medical observation. His temperature was 96.2 degrees and he weighed 114.2 pounds.

At that point, Hehrer had been vomiting for four days and, the suit claims, his body temperature was less than 1 degree from being hypothermic. Hehrer was returned to a housing unit later that day.

After being returned to general population, the lawsuit claims, “multiple inmates showed concern for Mr. Hehrer and checked on him throughout the day” on March 7, 2019.

Over the next several days, Hehrer was housed in the receiving area of the jail, where he vomited blood and refused food numerous times, the suit claims.

“At 1:17 p.m. March 8, blatant disregard for Mr. Hehrer’s deteriorating health is further shown as defendant officer John Doe, who is aware of Mr. Hehrer’s declining condition, was observed spinning around in his chair, clearly unconcerned about Mr. Hehrer or any other Clinton County Jail Inmates,” the lawsuit claims.

The lawsuit claims another inmate was placed into the same cell as Hehrer March 8, and attempted to get help, but was told staff “already knew because he had been sick for a few days and the (staff) did not care.”

Guards placed a call to 911 shortly after 9 a.m. March 9, 2019, and a nurse told central dispatch “Mr. Hehrer had ‘dark brown vomit, jaundice, not eating, not urinating, no bowel movements, can’t get up, (Mr. Hehrer could) hardly swallow, choke’ and she further stated that Mr. Hehrer was ‘really in trouble and he’s thrown up a lot.’”

Hehrer was eventually transported to Sparrow, where his glucose level was 1,117, his blood pressure was 60 over 30, and his body temperature was 93.6 degrees.

Hehrer passed away March 13, 2019, after suffering from complications, including multiple strokes, gastrointestinal bleeding with hypotension, acute kidney injury and right jugular vein thrombosis.

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