Newsmakers: Jail policies unchanged since overdose death
BY ANNE STANTON
Note: The following article first appeared on Record Eagle on December 21, 2012.
Editor’s note: Part of a series of stories about people, places and events that made news in the Grand Traverse region in 2012.
TRAVERSE CITY — More than nine months have passed since Danny Whitney Jr., died at age 21 in the Grand Traverse County Jail from a methadone overdose.
The jail has not changed any of its policies toward inmates since then, but Brenda Strait, Whitney’s mother, hopes a lawsuit will persuade them to reconsider.
“The reason I got an attorney is this should never, ever happen again. If they are under observation, they should be under observation,” she said.
Whitney died in an observation cell about seven hours after being booked into jail on March 2.
Whitney told jail staff he had taken four tablets of methadone and one Xanax prior to his arrest. Yet Dr. Stephen Cohle, a forensic pathologist, reported it would have taken 20 to 40 tablets to reach the level of methadone found in Whitney’s system.
Grand Traverse County Sheriff Tom Bensley said it’s hard to help people when they’re not truthful.
“On three separate occasions, he told three different people that he had taken four methadone pills. He was not real honest,” Bensley said. “We followed our policies and procedures. We did the right thing; we had the odds stacked against us.”
Bensley added that the jail staff follows the recommendations of the medical staff, which are contract employees.
Strait believes that the potentially fatal combination of Xanax and methadone should have prompted the jail staff to have taken her son to the hospital or at least monitored him much more closely.
“As a nurse wouldn’t you wake him up every hour to see if he was breathing?” she said.
She contends a share of the responsibility also lies with Dr. James Leete, who prescribed methadone and alprazolam (Xanax) to Whitney, who had battled drug addiction.
“Shame on that doctor. He should never have given it to him with his addiction history,” said Strait.
Two unrelated allegations were filed against Leete in July with the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs’ Bureau of Health Care, said Carole Engle, bureau director.
Engle said the investigation is ongoing and declined to release details of the allegations.
Leete is no longer practicing at his former office, but Engle said he still retains his license. Leete couldn’t be reached for comment.
Whitney, who had been living in a transition house and was due for release the next day, arrived at the jail at about 4 p.m. for a community corrections violation. He was found dead at about 11 p.m.
Bensley said a nurse physically evaluated him and a corrections officer observed him through the cell’s glass window.
A jail nurse relayed Whitney’s vital signs, behavior and consumption of methadone to an off-site doctor, who told her to let him “sleep it off.” The medical staff is contracted through Correctional Healthcare Companies.
An inmate who shared the cell said Whitney was “snoring very loudly and all the time when all of a sudden he stopped snoring.”
Strait said she assumed her son was using methadone to help reduce his drug addiction.
Although an effective pain medication, methadone doesn’t flush out of the body quickly or predictably, said Terry Baumann, manager of pharmacy at Munson Medical Center and a specialist in pain control.
Using Xanax with methadone increases the potential to cause more sedation or to stop breathing completely, he said.
“And yes, it would increase the potential for dying,” Baumann said.
Soon after her son’s death, Strait contacted Andrew Abood, a Lansing-based attorney, to file a lawsuit. Abood sent a letter to sheriff’s officials in September, followed by an extensive Freedom of Information Act request in November, said Undersheriff Nate Alger.
Abood said his firm is considering a civil rights suit against the sheriff’s office, and a negligence or malpractice case against the jail’s advising doctor.
Meanwhile, Strait deeply mourns her son.
“Do you know the saddest part? I’ll never see him get married, I didn’t get a grandchild. It’s very sad. He would have been a great father someday,” she said.
We are on Super Lawyers
Super Lawyers provides Attorney Profile of Jeffrey Abood located in Birmingham, Michigan (MI) focused on Family Law and Criminal Defense.
Law firms move to town
By Hayley Beitman News Staff
August 28, 2012
The Abood Law Firm is moving one of its locations from 30600 Telegraph Road in Bingham Farms to 470 North Old Woodward in Birmingham and will open for business Tuesday, September 4. “The new space is gorgeous and with so many great retail, service and dining options in the immediate vicinity, it’s going to make the experience for our clients that much better,” attorneyJeffrey Lance Abood said. Attorneys Jeffrey Lance Abood, Andrew Abood and Carrie Cousino will serve the Birmingham area. The law firm also has a large office in Lansing which will remain open, with the Birmingham location primarily specializing in divorce and criminal cases. “I am thrilled that our new office space in downtown Birmingham is finally complete,” Abood said.
Read more about Abood Law’s new Birmingham location
Darren McCarty drops personal protection orders against former friends
Former Detroit Red Wings forward Darren McCarty went to an Oakland County court Tuesday to drop the last of four personal protection orders he had obtained against former friends.
McCarty and his wife made no comments Wednesday while in court. They were letting their attorney, Paul Addis, speak for them.
“Not so much a change of heart but a stipulation between the parties that at this point in time regarding this matter that we are no longer going to pursue it,” Addis said.
Former Red Wing Drops PPO Against Ex-Girlfriend
July 25, 2012
DETROIT (WWJ) – Former Detroit Red Wing Darren McCarty and his wife agreed in Oakland Circuit Court on Wednesday to drop a personal protection order against one of his ex-girlfriends.
Attorney Jeffrey Lance Abood said his client, 37-year-old Tonya Juhl of Clawson, was never a threat to McCarty, and the judge saw that.
Former Wing McCarty agrees to terminate PPO against ex-girlfriend
Pontiac — Ex-Detroit Red Wing Darren McCarty and his wife, Sheryl, agreed in Oakland Circuit Court on Wednesday to terminate a personal protection order against one of his former girlfriends they had claimed harassed and threatened them by phone and on the Internet.Their voluntary action, accepted by Judge Joan Young, ends a personal protection order (PPO) they had obtained against Tonya Juhl, 37, of Clawson. As part of the agreement, Juhl agreed to remove any reference of the McCartys on social media.
Jury selection complete in Drew Peterson murder trial
Andy Grimm and Steve Schmadeke
July 24, 2012
Drew Peterson carefully appraised every prospective juror who took a seat in a Joliet courtroom Tuesday, then later nodded or shook his head when his attorneys asked whether to fight to keep them.
He remained closely involved as the final jurors were selected, setting the stage for opening statements and testimony in his murder trial next week.
McCarty, wife drop protection orders against 3 of 4 ex-friends
The Detroit News
June 20, 2012
Pontiac — Former Detroit Red Wing Darren McCarty and his wife dropped personal protection orders against three ex-friends Wednesday, but legal matters involving a fourth person — Tonya Juhl, 37, of Clawson — are still to be decided.
The 40-year-old retired hockey star and his wife, Sheryl, 37, claim the four have been harassing and threatening them over the past two years because McCarty has tried to distance himself from his past lifestyle of women, booze and drugs.
Darren McCarty and wife Sheryl obtain personal protection order against former friends
ABC Action News
June 6, 2012
(WXYZ) – Off the ice drama is unfolding for Retired Red Wings star Darren McCarty and his wife, Sheryl.
The newly married McCartys have obtained personal protection orders against four of Darren’s former friends including two women he once dated.
In court documents, the McCartys accuse the four of threatening their safety.
Darren McCarty Says He’s Getting Death Threats
June 6, 2012
DETROIT (WWJ) – Former Detroit Red Wings fan favorite Darren McCarty, 40, and his wife say they’re getting death threats from former friends.
The McCartys have been granted personal protection orders against three Oakland County women and a Macomb County man. The PPO request reportedly says the former pals have sent threatening text messages, written nasty things about the couple on social media, and threatened to harm them.
Best of Detroit 2012
Hour Detroit Best of Detroit 2012
Best Divorce Lawyer
Jeffrey Lance Abood
Witness: Defendants in Lansing beating death were like ‘pack of wolves’ with ‘piece of meat’
May 18, 2012
LANSING, MI — Austin Smith and Donald Suttle were among a group of five that chased down, beat and bludgeoned Travis Peterson during the early morning hours of New Year’s Day in downtown Lansing, ultimately causing his death, according to witness testimony.
Brian Selleck testified in Lansing District Court at Smith’s and Suttle’s preliminary hearing Friday morning he witnessed the incident unfold. He said he and a group of friends first saw Peterson, 30, walking north along Washington Square away from Brannigan Brothers about 1 a.m. One of Selleck’s friends knew Peterson from work.
Ingham County medical examiner: Victim in Lansing New Year’s Day beating death sustained blunt-force trauma to head, baton strikes to arm
May 18, 2012
LANSING, MI — Ingham County Medical Examiner Joyce DeJong detailed in court Friday internal and external injuries she found during Travis Peterson’s autopsy shortly after his Jan. 3 death.
Child support case against Jimmy King dismissed
Click On Detroit
January 27, 2012
DETROIT – The child support case against former University of Michigan basketball star Jimmy King has been dismissed.
King, a former member of Michigan’s “Fab 5,” was arrested Aug. 10, 2011, on accusations he failed to pay $17,000 in child support for a 17-year-old son and was ignoring attempts by the Michigan Attorney General’s Office to contact him about it since 2008.
Former Fab Five star Jimmy King’s child support case dismissed as payments made
The Oakland Press
January 27, 2012
The Oakland County child support case against former University of Michigan “Fab Five” star Jimmy King was dismissed Friday when he paid more than $17,000 in back support.
King, 38, was arrested last August on accusations that he failed to pay more than $17,000 in child support for his 17-year-old son, Jalen King, who currently lives in Kansas. The felony charges could have involved a four-year maximum sentence.
2012 Birmingham Bloomfield Lifestyle Magazine Winter Issue
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Investigators looking into disappearance, death of JoAnn Matouk Romain say evidence points to murder
K. Michelle Moran
C and G News
January 16, 2012
January 2010 was a far cry from January 2012, especially along the shores of Lake St. Clair in Grosse Pointe Farms. Ice and snow covered the ground, and frigid winds whipped across the water.
But while the weather this year might be milder by comparison, there remains a distinct chill in the air thanks not to Mother Nature, but to mankind: Was this place of such scenic beauty the site of a very ugly murder?