Two Jefferson County jail deputies who were acquitted last year of criminal negligence in the death of an inmate are now suing the district attorneys who took them to trial, alleging malicious prosecution.
Deputies Michael Durkan and Anthony Hansen seek $10 million in damages in a federal suit filed against Clackamas County prosecutors who were appointed to take the case to trial in Jefferson County. They are also suing Jefferson County District Attorney Steven Leriche, Redmond Police officer Johnny Dickson, the city of Redmond and a medical witness at the trial.
The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Portland this week.
Jefferson County Circuit Judge Daina Vitolins last year found insufficient evidence to show 59-year-old James Eugene Wippel died because the deputies didn’t call for immediate medical care when he was in distress and vomiting blood.
Yet the judge also described the deputies’ failure to get medical care for Wippel as a “gross deviation from the standard of care a reasonable person would have done in this situation,” according to court testimony.
Wippel, 59, died in custody in the secure entryway of the Jefferson County jail in Madras on April 26, 2017, just before being taken by ambulance to a hospital. He had been arrested two days earlier on suspicion of heroin and methamphetamine possession.
An autopsy found Wippel bled out from a stomach ulcer.
Durkan and Hansen worked the night shift April 25 to 26, 2017, from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. They each checked on Wippel several times, finding him in a growing state of distress. But they never called 911 or the jail nurse, instead waiting for her return to work at 8 a.m. April 26.
For about eight hours until the nurse returned to work, Wippel had been vomiting blood, groaning and complaining of not feeling well. Court records show the jail guards moved Wippel from a detox cell to another cell in the booking area and brought him breakfast about 5 a.m. on April 26, but he received no medical attention. The new cell allowed him to be watched more closely. The nurse noted seeing vomit and blood on Wippel’s cell wall when she returned to work that morning.
Dr. Richard Bochner, a Bend-based gastroenterologist who is named in the suit, testified before grand jurors that had the sheriff’s deputies called an ambulance for Wippel before 8 a.m., he likely would have survived. At trial, Bochner testified that he couldn’t state with certainty that Wippel would have lived if taken to a hospital earlier.
The nurse and Jackson County’s sheriff testified in support of Durkan and Hansen during trial.
The two deputies, who returned to work after their acquittals, allege false arrest and intentional infliction of emotional distress, violation of their due process rights and negligence against Bochner.
In their suit, Durkan and Hansen contend two of the grand jurors who returned the indictment had encounters with them when they previously worked for the Warm Springs Police Department and should have been dismissed.
They also challenge the testimony of Bochner, who was called as a witness before the grand jury, though at the time they say he hadn’t reviewed all evidence, including the jail video or audio capturing the final 90 minutes of Wippel’s life, according to the suit.
“There was no medical causation linking the plaintiff’s actions to Mr. Wippel’s death,” the suit alleges. “The state paid an expert to offer an opinion with a preconceived outcome.”
Clackamas County District Attorney John Foote said the case was prosecuted properly.
“We look forward to vigorously defending this lawsuit and expect a successful outcome,” Foote said. His office took on the case at the request of the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office. The suit also names Clackamas County Chief Deputy District Attorney John Wentworth.
“A Jefferson County grand jury heard the facts and voted to charge both corrections officers, Michael Durkan and Anthony Hansen, with criminally negligent homicide for failing to provide appropriate care to a dying man,” Foote said.
— Maxine Bernstein