MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — The family of a Muskegon County Jail inmate who died in his cell two years ago has filed a federal lawsuit against the sheriff and others after a Target 8 investigation found the inmate had suffered repeated seizures in a close-observation cell without medical help.
The multimillion-dollar lawsuit was filed on behalf of Paul Bulthouse’s family on Monday in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids.
Among the allegations: That the sheriff department conducted a “sham” investigation and tried to cover up details of the death, that some jailers falsified reports to minimize their role and that guards watched some of Bulthouse’s seizures on a video surveillance screen and did nothing.
Target 8 had already reported that the sheriff’s department denied its request for surveillance video of the death, saying it did not exist. Target 8 filed a follow-up request and obtained the video after Bulthouse’s autopsy report referred to surveillance video.
Bulthouse, 39, died two and a half hours later, naked and alone in his cell and in a puddle of his own urine. The autopsy shows Bulthouse died of status epilepticus, or seizures.
The lawsuit, filed by attorney Marcel Benavides, names Sheriff Michael Poulin, jail administrators, jail guards, jail medical staff and Wellpath, the Tennessee-based private company that provides the jail’s medical care.
Poulin operates the jail, which was operating on a 5-year, $6.7 million contract with Wellpath to provide medical care. The company has faced more than 1,000 federal lawsuits over deaths and allegations of poor care at jails across the country.
The Michigan Attorney General’s Office also opened a criminal investigation into the death in response to the Target 8 reports. A spokeswoman on Tuesday said the office is a “couple weeks” from finishing.
The federal lawsuit alleges the jail held Bulthouse under “inhumane conditions of confinement where he experienced cruel and unusual punishment, otherwise forcing him to endure extreme and needless pain and suffering,” and, eventually, death.
It claims they were “deliberately indifferent,” poorly trained, grossly negligent and that they violated his constitutional rights.
The lawsuit alleges the mistreatment of Bulthouse was cruel and unusual punishment.
“From the beginning of his pretrial detention on March 22, 2019, until his death on April 4, 2019, Paul Bulthouse’s constitutional rights, including his right to be free from the deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs, his right to be free from excessive force, and his right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, were continuously and repeatedly violated by the defendants named herein—resulting in 13 days of mental and physical agony, causing and culminating in his death,” the lawsuit alleges.
Target 8 has reached out to both Sheriff Poulin and Wellpath for comment.
Bulthouse was locked up March 22, 2019, 11 days before he died, for a probation violation.
Before he was jailed, Bulthouse was on Klonopin, a benzodiazepine, prescribed by his doctor to treat the after-effects of an ephedra overdose years ago.
The lawsuit alleges the jail denied him Klonopin and didn’t properly ween him off, leading to the seizures that killed him.
It says the jail should have sent him to the hospital days before his death. He had lost 12 pounds during his stay there, was suffering withdrawals, “dangerously” high blood pressure and hallucinations, the lawsuit alleges.
“That Plaintiff’s Decedent Paul Bulthouse’s serious medical conditions were ones that were so obvious that even a lay person would have easily recognized the necessity for a doctor’s immediate attention or emergency care,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit alleges that the county and Wellpath “embarked on a cover up” after the death.
“Through its agents and officials, Defendant Muskegon County and Defendant Wellpath knowingly conducted a sham and fraudulent death investigation to conceal the unconstitutional conduct alleged herein,” the lawsuit alleges. “They also wrongfully withheld critical information from Paul Bulthouse’s next of kin, attorneys retained by his family, and public officials responsible for determining the causes leading to his death.”