Sebastian County Claims Sovereign Immunity In Lawsuit On Inmate’s Death
SEBASTIAN COUNTY (KFSM) – Sebastian County’s attorneys are claiming sovereign immunity after a lawsuit was filed by the family of an inmate who died in her jail cell from drug intoxication.
Amanda Potter, 39, was found unresponsive in her Sebastian County Detention Center cell in the early morning of July 19. She was rushed to Sparks Regional Medical Center in Fort Smith, where she was pronounced dead, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
Potter’s family filed a federal lawsuit Dec. 23 against Sebastian County Sheriff Bill Hollenbeck, County Judge David Hudson and the Sebastian County Quorum Court. The lawsuit claims the defendants were responsible for Potter’s death because she was not given proper access to medical care when she was jailed with severe symptoms of drug intoxication.
The county’s counter to the lawsuit states detention center officers did nothing wrong and refutes the claim that Potter did not have proper access to medical attention at the facility.
Potter was arrested the night before on two misdemeanor “failure to appear” warrants out of Sebastian County and a separate warrant from Crawford County.
In a response to the federal complaint, filed Tuesday (Jan. 13), an attorney for the defendants counters that the county cannot be legally sued because it has sovereign immunity, qualified immunity, tort immunity and punitive damages immunity. The attorney, Jason E. Owens of Little Rock, goes on to ask the case be dismissed.
The case is set for a hearing in U.S. District Court in Fort Smith for March 24 in Judge P.K. Holmes’ courtroom. A jury trial is scheduled for Jan. 25, 2016, according to court records.
Potter’s family is asking for a declaration that Potter’s Eighth and 14th Amendment rights were violated, injunctive relief to prevent future similar incidents at the detention center and unspecified punitive damages, along with court costs, according to the lawsuit.
An Arkansas State Crime Lab examination revealed Potter’s cause of death as combined drug toxicity. The lawsuit against the county states, “This manner of death would have been prevented, had the (Sheriff’s Office) had proper policies and procedures that did not preclude (Potter) from receiving appropriate medical attention.”
Sebastian County Prosecutor Daniel Shue released a report in September stating there was no criminal liability in Potter’s death. A report on her death states she was continually monitored throughout the night, with a nurse administering medication during one of the checkups.
Potter was found unresponsive at 4:20 a.m.