BRIGHTON, Mich. (WXYZ) — A Brighton family wants answers. They want to know why John Griswold died while being held inside the Livingston County Jail. He was only there for 13 hours.
John had no prior criminal history. But when the father of two got into an argument with some of his relatives, they called the police. By the next morning, John was dead.
“The whole family misses him now and I wish things could have been different,” said Tim Griswold, John’s brother.
Now Tim wants someone to be held accountable.
“There needs to be change,” said Tim.
Tim says his family’s nightmare started back in 2018 at the family’s home in Brighton.
That’s when John was working in the yard with his elderly mom and other siblings. Tim says John had been prescribed anti-anxiety medications and anti-depressants that made him irritable. The siblings started arguing about the yard work, and say John suddenly got aggressive, so they called the police.
“He was standing in the house, and they just arrested him and took him to jail,” said Tim.
Family members say there were pills on the kitchen counter near John when he was taken into custody.
John told officers he took at least 10 of the pills, but paramedics said the meds were for ulcers, and cleared the 54-year-old to leave with police. But his family says they later learned there were high levels of an anti-depressant in John’s system.
Video from inside the jail shows that it takes several minutes to get John up and out of the police car. Deputies say he would not respond verbally during booking.
So a nurse evaluates him.
Police reports show the nurse noticed he had “pinpoint pupils” and an “elevated heart rate,” so she told jail staff that John needed to go to the hospital.
“An EKG was done, which showed something called a prolonged QT interval. A prolonged interval can be a consequence of a drug reaction, it’s a very dangerous thing because it can precipitate a fatal arrhythmia,” said attorney Brian McKeen.
McKeen is now suing the Livingston County Sheriff and the hospital where John was taken: St. Joseph Mercy Livingston.
“What should have been flagged is that he's a candidate for having an overdose. He should have been kept until all lab tests were back,” McKeen told 7 Investigator Heather Catallo. “The testing later showed a toxic level of a drug called Trazodone, and Trazodone is known to precipitate abnormal heart rhythms.”
But after three hours at the hospital, John is brought back to the jail.
Internal jail security footage shows John Griswold seems to have a hard time standing on his own while sheriff’s deputies try to book him.
Once he’s sitting in a cell, John doesn’t really move -- even when he later vomits.
Forty minutes later, two deputies check on him. But according to the lawsuit, they don’t seek medical attention despite the obvious vomit.
For the next 11 hours, deputies do cell checks throughout the night, but John barely moves.
“I think it's outrageous. I think it shows a deliberate indifference to his safety and his welfare. It's unimaginable to me that someone could be so callous to simply walk by a person's jail cell 23 times over a period of hours and see that they have a decreased level of responsiveness. See that they vomited,” said McKeen.
McKeen says security cameras show John’s last movement shortly after 7am. He says deputies don’t realize he’s not breathing until 7:42am when they try CPR.
But it was too late.
“It was devastating. I still struggle with it,” said Tim Griswold.
Deaths inside locally controlled jails are on the rise.
The most recent Department of Justice data from 2019 shows there were 1200 deaths in local jails across the country, up 5% from 2018.
Also in 2019, there were 167 deaths per 100,000 inmates, up 11% from 2000.
The 7 Investigators asked local sheriffs for the number of deaths inside their lockups during the last 10 years.
Since 2012, the Oakland County Jail has had 20 deaths, Macomb County had 28, Wayne County had 68 deaths, and the Livingston County Jail had one: John Griswold.
“Sheriffs have a governmental obligation to keep the people in their custody safe and secure, and that includes providing for health care,” said Loyola University New Orleans Law Professor Andrea Armstrong. Armstrong is national expert on prison and jail conditions.
“Forty percent of deaths that we see nationally in a jail occur within the first seven days. So that period of time is really critical for quick and rapid response in terms of medical and mental health distress,” said Armstrong.
That’s why John Griswold’s family wants to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else.
“I think we've grown so callous to the needs of people in a jail situation,” McKeen. “But he wasn't a criminal. He didn't really belong in jail. And he certainly didn't need to be staying in a jail cell when he needed to be in a hospital.”
The Livingston County Sheriff was not able to do an interview with us due to the pending lawsuit, but he did release this statement:
“It can be traumatic and emotional whenever there is the loss of a life. It is further magnified when the persons whose life expired, did so while in a correctional facility. We mourn for the loss of life and the family left behind, and as unfortunate as this is, I stand behind my men and women and am confident once this lawsuit comes to a final conclusion it will show there was no wrongdoing on our behalf”.
A spokesman for the hospital declined to comment due to the lawsuit, but in court filings have denied the allegations they discharged Griswold too soon, and said medical staff “appropriately recognized this was a potential drug overdose patient and treated him as such.”
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