Death raises new questions about care at Muskegon County Jail

Target 8

MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — The death of a mother of three who had been locked up on a probation violation is raising new questions about medical care at the Muskegon County Jail.

Tiffany Davis, 39, of Muskegon, who had worked as a phlebotomist, was unresponsive and suffering multiple brain hemorrhages when she was taken from the jail to the hospital in February, her doctor told Target 8. She died on Feb. 21 at Mercy Health Hackley Campus.

Dr. Christopher Marquart, a neurosurgeon who worked on the case, said doctors might have been able to save Davis had the jail dropped her off sooner.

“She was in bad shape,” Marquart said. “A day or two earlier might have made a difference. That’s the $64,000 question.”

MOM ASSURED JAIL COULD HANDLE CASE

Davis’ mother Gracie Michael, of Muskegon, said she had called the jail repeatedly three days before her daughter’s death.

“I begged them to take my daughter to the emergency room and they refused,” Michael said.
“They told me they were ‘well-equipped’ — exact words — ‘well-equipped’ to take care of their inmates.”

The death is the second involving a Muskegon County Jail inmate in less than a year. In April 2019, Paul Bulthouse, 39, died after suffering 17 seizures while in a close-observation unit at the jail. A report by Target 8 prompted the Michigan Attorney General’s Office to open a criminal investigation into that death. The investigation is still pending.

Davis had a short history of minor crimes. She was locked up at the Muskegon County Jail on Jan. 4 for allegedly breaking into a vacant home in Muskegon. She later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor illegal entry charge. But the charge violated her probation on an earlier minor drug conviction, which was why she was still in jail. She was to appear in court Feb. 27 for sentencing.

“She was a beautiful girl,” her mother said. “She was a wonderful girl. She was my daughter. Tiffany had a lot of people who loved her. She loved her children with all her heart.”

Davis’ mom said she tried visiting her daughter at the jail on Feb. 18, but her daughter’s cellmate came out instead.

“The young lady was very worried,” she said.

She said the cellmate told her that her daughter had suffered a seizure, was complaining of headaches and was in the jail’s infirmary.

The mom said that’s when she started calling the jail medical staff, demanding they take her to the ER.

“They should have taken my daughter to the emergency room,” she said.

‘DROPPED HER OFF LIKE A DOG’

The next day, on Feb. 19, the jail medical staff asked Muskegon County Chief Circuit Judge Timothy Hicks to issue a personal recognizance bond for Davis’ release.

The judge told Target 8 the PR bond he signed allowed the jail to release her to the hospital, no longer in custody.

That takes the jail off the hook for her hospital bills and means the sheriff isn’t required to report her death to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, which tracks jail deaths.

“They took her and dropped her off like a dog at the emergency room,” Davis’ mother said.

Marquart, the neurosurgeon, said the hemorrhages were scattered throughout Davis’ brain. He said doctors found no drugs in her system and no signs of trauma.

She was brain dead the next morning, he said. An autopsy is pending.

Davis’ mom said she learned from a friend the next day that her daughter was in the hospital. She said her daughter had no recent medical problems.

“So my daughter laid in the emergency room by herself,” she said in tears. “I think she wanted me. I think she was going through hell and she was alone, and it was their fault that she was alone. My daughter was never awake where I could see her again. I’m sorry.”

Her family donated her organs.

FAMILY WANTS ACCOUNTABILITY

Muskegon County Sheriff Michael Poulin operates the jail. He refused to provide details or answer questions.

“I know she was here,” he said when confronted by Target 8. “Listen, listen, Ken, do me a favor, right: Don’t sit here and ramrod me right now.”

The jail has a $6.7 million, five-year contract with Tennessee-based Wellpath to provide medical care. The company has faced 1,400 federal lawsuits over deaths and allegations of poor care at jails across the country.

Target 8 reached out to Wellpath and received a statement Tuesday stating it was unable to comment due to privacy laws.

Davis’ family also wants an investigation.

“They should be held responsible,” her mother said. “Tiffany has children. They shouldn’t get away with this. And for the other people coming up, nobody, nobody should go through this. Nobody.”

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