Video of the death throes of a jail inmate in withdrawal from his prescribed opioids and benzodiazepines went viral last month. The family has sued Macomb County in Michigan, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) instituted an inquiry last month, the Detroit Free Press reported September 29.
The inmate, David Stojcevski, died June 27, 2014, in Macomb County Jail at the age of 32. He was serving a 30-day sentence for failing to appear in court for a traffic ticket for careless driving. After 16 days, he was rushed to a hospital, where he died less than two hours later, according to the Detroit Free Press.
Stojcevski, who was in jail for two weeks, lost 50 pounds and died from prescription medication withdrawal, according to a lawsuit filed by the family, quoting from the autopsy. Sheriff Anthony Wickersham confirmed that the Detroit office of the FBI is asking for information about the death.
The sheriff said he encouraged the FBI to meet, and gave the agency the results of the internal investigation, as well as 240 hours of in-cell video.
“I promote transparency within my office and look forward to the findings of the FBI,” Wickersham said in a September 29 press release after meeting with the FBI. “Any death that occurs in the Macomb County Jail is tragic; not only to the family of the deceased, but to the men and women of the Sheriff’s Office who oversee the care and custody of our 1,200 inmates daily.” Because of the current lawsuit, Wickersham said he could not comment further on the case.
The county had already conducted an internal investigation and found that nothing was amiss, Michigan Radio reported October 13.
The lawyer representing the Stojcevski family, Robert Ihrie, is glad the FBI is involved. The lawsuit was filed in March in U.S. District Court in Detroit and claims that the county, Correct Care Solutions (which provides health care at the jail) and others allowed Stojcevski to go through withdrawal from prescription medications, causing suffering and death. The prescriptions were for benziodiazepines and opioids, but it was most likely the benzodiazepine withdrawal that was fatal. Both opioid and benzodiazepine withdrawal are painful.
The video was posted by a Detroit NBC TV station September 24. Since then, the family has protested outside the jail. For Dafinka Stojcevski, David’s mother, the anger is still raw. She is seeking justice for her son.
“They need to be punished for everything what they do (to) my son,” said Dafinka Stojcevski at an October 10 protest. “Shame on them!”
The death certificate listed the cause of death as “acute withdrawal from chronic benzodiazepine, methadone and opiate medications,” according to the lawsuit. The autopsy report also reflected dehydration and seizures — the seizures can be seen on the video, in which Stojcevski is naked and monitored around the clock in a “mental health cell.”
Stojcevski’s brother, Vladimir Stojcevski, was jailed at the same time, also for failing to appear in court on a traffic charge. He filed the lawsuit, which seeks more than $75,000 in damages. David had owed $772 in traffic fines, according to Michigan Radio.
County blames lawyer
On October 2, Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel called the Stojcevskis’ lawyer “irresponsible,” The Detroit News reported. “We’ve got an attorney out of St. Clair Shores who’s trying to strong-arm us out of $25–30 million,” Hackel said during a press conference with Wickersham and other officials.
The lawyer, Ihrie, had asked for the multimillion-dollar settlement before filing the lawsuit in March, said Hackel. “He said, ‘This is going to be a media spectacle,’” Hackel said of Ihrie’s offer. “Obviously, he made good on his promise.”
Ihrie denied that he had made any official money offers. “All I can say is that I did my best to try and have a meaningful discussion about this case before it was filed, and I never got a response,” he told The Detroit News.
Ihrie released the video footage — all 240 hours — and did not edit or cut it. He said the family hopes there will be changes made. “If there’s a silver lining, it’s that the visual component of this case, hopefully, will highlight the issue with respect to how jails and prisons are equipped and how medical care is managed for the sick and addicted,” said Ihrie.
Now the problem of access to medications in jail is an important topic, but it’s not often that people can see the consequences of withdrawal on a live video. Furthermore, if that video hadn’t gone viral, the FBI might not have become involved, and the county’s internal investigation — which it still stands behind — would have been the last word.
For the video, go to www.metrotimes.com/Blogs/archives/2015/09/24/video-of-man-dying-in-macomb-county-jail-emerges.