Overcrowded Rhea Co. jail sued for “wrongful death” of inmate
A lawsuit has been filed against the Rhea County Sheriff’s Department, among others, one year after a woman died in a jail cell.
Jacqueline “Jackie” Sue Keel died August 7, 2014 in an “overcrowded and unwatched jail cell” hours after being arrested for DUI.
That’s according to a lawsuit filed Monday in Rhea County Circuit Court on behalf of her family.
Keel was involved in a crash on August 6 and Dayton police arrested her on the suspicion she was on “all kinds of pills.”
The lawsuit claims that jail staff failed to exercise custodial control and reasonable care for Keel based on their knowledge of her intoxicated state.
Medical staff checked on Keel at the jail and she was booked 4-5 hours after her arrival. The lawsuit alleges she was placed in an “overcrowded cell with 11 or more women” and that jail staff knew her intoxicated state was “excessive and life threatening.”
Keel was found dead two hours after the jail’s 6:30 a.m. shift change.
“Inmates located in Ms. Keel’s cell attempted to have Rhea County Sheriff’s personnel to come to the aid of Ms. Keel; however, this did not occur,” the lawsuit states.
It goes on to say the jail is recklessly and unsafely overcrowded, adding there was a lack of manpower to adequately monitor Keel the morning of her death.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of both Keel’s surviving sister and spouse. It names Rhea County, the Rhea County Sheriff’s Department, the City of Dayton and Dayton Police Department as the defendants.
Just two weeks before her death, the Rhea County Sheriff's Office told Channel 3 that its jail is not only overcrowded, but also a danger to the public.
The Rhea County jail is certified to house 87 inmates but is often double capacity, according to Channel 3 archives.
Deputies said the overcrowding makes it impossible to separate high risk inmates from the general population.
The State of Tennessee ordered Rhea County to build a bigger and safer jail more than a decade ago but funding has not been available to make it happen.