BENTONVILLE (KFSM)- The Benton County Quorum Court agreed unanimously to accept a $1 million settlement between the family of Faith Whitcomb, who died in the Benton County Detention Center in May 2012, and the county during their Thursday (Feb. 5) meeting.
Benton County Judge Bob Clinard said $652,000 of the settlement would have to come from the county's reserve funds and the rest would come from an insurance company. Clinard said the county has about $11 million in its reserve funds.
"I think it's the right thing to do, to pay the settlement," Clinard said. "After listening to the potential of what all this might be, if it went to court, if it went to a jury trial, I feel like the settlement was the right thing to do."
Whitcomb, 52, was found face down in a cell about 4:20 a.m. on May 3, 2012 by jailers making regular checks, former Benton County Sheriff Keith Ferguson said.
Whitcomb was arrested in July 2011 on felony drug possession and manufacturing charges, jail reports show. On Nov. 7, a judge ordered her to undergo care at the State Hospital in Little Rock after a mental evaluation found her to be unfit to stand trial, and she had been in jail since.
Whitcomb's family sued the Benton County Sheriff's Office in 2013 after an autopsy showed she died of undiagnosed pancreatic cancer that had spread to her liver, lungs and lymph system. Charlotte Ann Robinson, the administrator of the estate for Whitcomb filed the lawsuit in federal court in Fayetteville against Ferguson and jail doctors John Allan Huskins and Warrant Scott Lafferty, according to court documents.
In the lawsuit, Robinson alleged that Whitcomb was visibly suffering from the physical effects of pancreatic cancer for several months before her death in May 2012, but that jail officials ignored her requests for medical attention and kept her in jail too long.
Robinson stated Whitcomb was suffering from schizophrenia. The jail never transferred her to DHS custody, though, and Whitcomb started experiencing severe pains a few months later. She submitted several requests for medical treatment, which were either ignored or met with prescriptions of Tylenol, which did not help her pain, the lawsuit stated.
The lawsuit stated that if Whitcomb had been taken to a hospital or given proper attention by the jail doctors, her pancreatic cancer could have been detected, and her life may have been saved.
In addition to the doctors, the lawsuit also faulted Ferguson for Whitcomb’s death by stating that the former sheriff should have transferred Whitcomb into DHS custody the November before her death.
According to Clinard, the Benton County Sheriff's Office has made changes to improve they way they respond to inmates who need medical attention.
"As far as this happening again, we don't think it will ever happen again," Clinard said.
The current administration at the Benton County Sheriff's Office also released this statement:
"We would, again, like to extend our condolences to the family of Faith Whitcomb.
Although this incident occurred under the previous administration, we are relieved that a settlement has been reached in this matter by working with Whitcomb’s family and legal representatives.
Sheriff [Kelly] Cradduck saw the importance of ensuring a tragedy, such as this, didn’t happen during his watch, which is why he decided to contract a third-party to handle the jail’s medical needs. We now have around-the-clock medical staff conducting immediate health screenings for each person entering the facility, in hopes of catching any medical or mental health problems on the front end."