For nearly three weeks, Joshua McLemore lived in solitary confinement at the Jackson County Jail.
He barely ate or drank after being taken to the jail on July 20, 2021. He urinated and defecated on the floor. He lost 45 pounds.
By the time jail staff called for medical help, McLemore’s organs were failing. He died at a Cincinnati hospital on Aug. 10, 2021, at the age of 29.
An autopsy ruled the cause of death as “multiple organ failure due to refusal to eat or drink with altered mental status due to untreated schizophrenia.”
An Indiana State Police investigation found McLemore died because of a lack of attention by jail staff, something the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office agreed with. But this negligence did not result in criminal charges.
A federal lawsuit filed this week on behalf of McLemore’s estate seeks damages, including compensation for mental, physical and emotional pain, along with punitive damages, attorneys’ fees and other applicable relief.
It names as defendants Jackson County Sheriff Rick Meyer, Jail Commander Chris Everhart, jail personnel and Advanced Correctional Healthcare, Inc., a private contractor that offers healthcare services at correctional facilities in 21 states.
“Josh McLemore wasn’t a criminal. He was mentally ill and in crisis. He was out of touch with reality and needed help,” said Hank Balson, an attorney representing McLemore’s estate “This is glaringly obvious to anyone who watches the videos of him in his isolation cell. But instead of getting Josh the care he so desperately needed, the Jackson County sheriff and his staff left Josh alone in his cell, naked, barely sleeping or eating, for almost three weeks as he wasted away in front of their eyes. This is not only unconstitutional, it’s immoral.”
McLemore, who grew up in Mississippi, had a history of substance abuse and mental health issues. He was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia. He moved to Seymour, Indiana, in November 2020.
The ordeal at the center of the lawsuit started on July 20, 2021, when someone concerned about McLemore’s wellbeing contacted the Seymour Police Department. When officers arrived, they found him naked and incoherent at his apartment. He eventually agreed to go with them to a local hospital.
McLemore was disoriented; his answers to questions made no sense. He chewed on seatbelts from his stretcher and also chewed on the stretcher’s rail while in the ambulance.
McLemore arrived in the emergency room in an agitated state. A doctor at the facility was familiar with McLemore, who had a history of methamphetamine use. During an examination, with McLemore in an altered mental state, he pulled a nurse’s hair.
Police took him to the Jackson County Jail. On the way, he rambled incoherently and seemed to be unfocused. He bit the top of a car door and made random noises and sounds. At one point, an officer asked him if he was licking a computer.
According to the lawsuit, he was not photographed, fingerprinted or asked medical book-in questions, standard procedures for a new detainee. Staff took him directly to Padded Cell 7, where he spent hours upon hours in a windowless environment with little contact. Guards were unable to get him to wear a jail smock, meaning he spent much of his time in captivity naked.
From there, the situation only got worse, the lawsuit said. McLemore only left his cell when guards forcibly removed him to clean it and put him under a shower, according to the lawsuit.
The cell was especially dirty because McLemore spilled food and beverages on himself and the floor. He tore up food containers, littering the floor with pieces of Styrofoam and paper bags. It all mixed with his own urine and feces.
At times, McLemore would stare at the camera. At one point as he fidgeted on the floor and made random sounds, he asked, “Where am I?”
Staff used video cameras to monitor McLemore. The footage showed the “inhumane nature” of his confinement, as well as his “active psychosis” and “deteriorating condition,” the lawsuit said. He received virtually no medical care or attention, despite being on “medical observation.” Jail staff maintained a recorded log for only the first seven-and-a-half days of McLemore’s confinement.
He slept for only 15 hours total during his 20 days in solitary. He lost nearly 45 pounds and appeared emaciated in video from his final day in captivity.
McLemore’s cell had a bathroom, although the door remained locked. He could’ve requested to use it, but he would’ve had to verbally ask guards to do so. Because of his mental state, he was unable to communicate such a request, the lawsuit contended.
On Aug. 3—two weeks after his confinement started—a guard opened the bathroom door and left it that way for four hours. McLemore entered but didn’t use the toilet or sink.
McLemore walked barefoot in his own waste, rolled around in it and ate food from it. He wrapped himself in a urine-soaked blanket—“all of this in plain view of the guards who were supposed to be monitoring him every 15 minutes,” the lawsuit said. Staff never took steps to address the problem and allowed McLemore to live under those conditions.
At no point, despite McLemore’s clear struggles and mental degradation, was a mental health professional summoned to check on him, the lawsuit alleged.
“Every officer who worked in that jail over the three weeks Josh was there could plainly see that he was not in his right mind and was not able to care for himself,” Balson said. “But not a single one knew what to do. The jail had no mental health staff, and the single LPN who worked there three or four days a week, whose job it was to make sure seriously ill people in the county’s custody got the care they needed, barely interacted with Josh and ignored the obvious risks of his condition.”
Balson said McLemore’s situation arose from systemic problems that the county was aware of but failed to fix. He added that McLemore’s death “wasn’t the result of a simple error in judgment.”
Jail policies and state law require that people in solitary confinement be allowed to leave their cell for at least one hour a day. But McLemore left his cell only four times in his 20 days of confinement:
- July 25: Guards opened the cell door; McLemore stepped out as three guards grabbed him and put him in restraints. He sat outside his cell for 15 minutes as another prisoner cleaned his cell. Guards then carried him back to the cell and left him in restraints for more than four hours.
- July 27: Guards removed McLemore from his cell, restrained him, placed him in a wheelchair and wheeled him into a bathroom. They lifted the chair into a shower stall and turned on the water. At one point, a guard poured two cups of liquid soap on him and walked away. He was in the shower for about 12 minutes, fully restrained, while another detainee cleaned his cell.
- July 31: The incident played out similarly to his July 27 removal, according to the lawsuit.
- Aug. 8: A listless, weak McLemore didn’t eat breakfast or lunch. A jail nurse brought him Gatorade; the nurse had to get a straw and hold the bottle so McLemore could drink it. In the afternoon, staff asked him if he could stand up; McLemore responded with a moan. Instead of getting immediate medical help, the staff took him to a shower stall to get him cleaned up and also gave him Gatorade and water. He was restrained even though he was clearly weak. Staff placed him in the shower stall and let the water run for about 13 minutes, with McLemore restrained in the wheelchair.
Later on Aug. 8, EMTs arrived around 6 p.m. to take McLemore to an area hospital. He spent four hours in the emergency department, having been diagnosed with “hypoxia (insufficient oxygen in his body tissues), encephalopathy (disease affecting brain function), acute renal failure, hypernatremia (too much sodium in his blood, indicative of severe dehydration), and rhabdomyolysis (breakdown of damaged muscle tissue, characteristic of someone who has been lying in one place for a long time without normal movement).”
Because of the severity of his condition, he was airlifted to a Cincinnati hospital and admitted there at 12:15 a.m. on Aug. 9, 2021. By the morning of Aug. 10, he was comatose and on life support. His family made the difficult decision to pull him off life support; he died at 5:05 p.m.
The lawsuit noted that McLemore died less than a month after the death of another Jackson County Jail inmate. Ta’Neasha Chappell “died when staff failed to recognize and properly respond to severe symptoms she exhibited,” according to the lawsuit. She was found unresponsive in her cell and died on July 16, 2021.
The lawsuit said McLemore’s condition was treatable and his death preventable. It seeks to redress “egregious violations” of his constitutional rights.