Woman dies in Montcalm jail: ‘What happened?’

Montcalm County

STANTON, Mich. (WOOD) — Grief and questions are mounting for the family of a West Michigan woman who died days after she was booked into the Montcalm County Jail.

“Her first time in jail and she doesn’t even make it out alive?” Amber Bills’ mother said.

Montcalm County Sheriff Mike Williams said in a statement that Bills was found unresponsive inside her cell Sunday. The sheriff said officers started CPR and called for medical help when their efforts were unsuccessful.

Bills, 34, was booked Dec. 22 and was scheduled to be released Jan. 2, her mother Karen Zwyghuizen said. She was being held on two contempt of court charges for unpaid fees, and a charge for not having an operator’s license on her.

“They’re all human beings. Whether they messed up or not, they need to be treated like human beings,” Zwyghuizen said Wednesday, speaking with 24 Hour News 8 at her Big Rapids home.

Zwyghuizen said she’s in pain over losing her only daughter. She said Bills was a lifelong Howard City resident who had recently been staying in Big Rapids.

“My thoughts are this could’ve been prevented. She could’ve gotten out Wednesday, but now I have to bury her,” she said.

A woman who says she was an inmate with Bills reportedly told Zwyghuizen that her daughter tried repeatedly to get medical help before she died.

“(The inmate said) they had contacted the guards and the guard just told her (Bills) to man up and deal with it, that she’d be out of jail on Wednesday anyways,” Zwyghuizen said.

Sheriff Williams said that early autopsy results revealed Bills had an undiagnosed perforated ulcer. Final autopsy results could take as long as four months, according to the medical examiner’s office.

Zwyghuizen said she’s growing suspicious of the incident. She claimed officials at the sheriff’s office originally told her that her daughter died of a heart attack.

“I just want to know actually what actually happened to her,” she said. “I have to raise her daughter now and I have no truth to tell her why her mom passed away in jail. I have no answers to give her.”

Zwyghuizen wants the jail to explain what happened. She believes jail employees are at fault.

“It’s like they’re trying to cover something up or hide something,” she said. “I just would like some answers so that I can put this to rest and if it was something wrong that the jail had done, man up and say it.”

Williams said he has asked the Michigan Sheriff’s Association MISSION team to conduct an external review of the incident.

The sheriff’s office did not return requests for comment Wednesday.

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