Inmate: Medical care was botched

GREENFIELD — A former inmate at the Hancock County Jail said she needed an emergency tracheotomy as a result of not receiving adequate medical attention during her incarceration, and she plans to sue the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department for damages, court documents state.

Belinda Dennis, who was jailed in July 2013 on theft charges, has filed a complaint against the sheriff’s department saying she’ll seek payment for “serious and permanent injuries” she said she suffered as a result of her jail stay, according to a civil tort filed recently by her attorney, Andrew Wirick of Indianapolis.

A tort claim notice is a legal document filed in advance of a lawsuit, outlining a petitioner’s complaint.

Allegations in a civil lawsuit are the opinion of the person filing and can be refuted in court.

Dennis said she was having medical issues prior to her arrest. Those issues worsened after she was taken into custody, and she said jail officers didn’t do enough to help her.

Around 2 a.m. July 10, 2013 — before Dennis was arrested — she went to the emergency room after experiencing swelling in her throat, according to court documents. She was having a hard time swallowing, had trouble breathing and felt dizzy. She was released from the hospital after doctors determined she had laryngitis and acid reflux from a reaction to eating pineapple, court documents state.

Sometime after 9:30 a.m. the same day, Dennis was arrested on a charge of theft and was booked into the Hancock County Jail. Dennis said she told jail officers later that evening she was having trouble with her throat again, and the officers told her to make a list of her symptoms, court documents state.

The next morning, July 11, Dennis appeared in Hancock County Superior Court 2, where she informed Judge Dan Marshall about the swelling in her throat, court documents state. Around 11 p.m., Dennis started coughing up blood and was told by jail staff “the nurse for the jail was on vacation,” the tort states.

Around 3 a.m. July 12, Dennis passed out and was rushed to Hancock Regional Hospital. There, doctors performed a tracheotomy — an incision in Dennis’ windpipe — to help her breathe; a CT scan later revealed two large obstructions in her throat, according to court documents.

Court records show Dennis was formally released from custody on July 15.

The sheriff’s department contracts a private company to provide medical services in the jail, and a medical professional is always either at the facility or on call, Sheriff Mike Shepherd said.

Nurses staff the jail in shifts during the week, and doctors make regular visits, Shepherd said. If an inmate is feeling ill after nurses have left for the day, the jail has protocols in place to handle the situation, he said: Jail officers contact the medical company, relay the person’s symptoms and receive further instructions. If the situation is deemed serious, the inmate is taken to the hospital for further treatment.

Advanced Correctional Healthcare, an Illinois-based medical company that was handling those duties at the time, also is named as a party in the tort claim.

Shepherd said he could not comment on Dennis’ claims or what might have happened during her days in the jail.

Attorney Ian Stewart of Indianapolis is representing the sheriff’s department. He declined to comment on the impending lawsuit but denies Dennis’ allegation in a formal response to the tort filed with the clerk’s office recently.

Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or