Lebanon Pennsylvania county is being forced to pay $5 million to Victoria Herrs family. The young teenager who collapsed and died in jail after four days of heroin withdrawal. The lawyer representing the victim’s family stated, the Lebanon jail staff ignored her life or death medical needs for days and then mislead investigators in questioning.
Known as “Tori” Herr, 18, had been arrested on March 27, 2015, for the first time during a search for her boyfriend. During the initial search, authorities found drugs in the couple’s apartment. Herr told intake staff at the Lebanon County Correctional Facility she shot up 10 bags of black tar heroin a day and opened up to a cellmate that she feared the withdrawal process could kill her.
Herr experienced intense bouts of vomiting and diarrhea over the next four days and was only given bottles of Ensure, water and adult diapers. Herr lost consciousness, collapsed of apparent dehydration and went into cardiac arrest as they walked her back from the medical unit on March 31-Tori Herr died at the hospital on April 5.
During the trials, Jonathan Feinberg, a civil rights lawyer in Philadelphia who represents Herr’s family stated , “Anyone who looked at her would have known that she was very sick and that she needed attention, There was a complete disregard for her needs, which can only be tied back to the fact that she was addicted to drugs.”
He noted a simple trip to the emergency room for intravenous fluids would have kept the young girl alive. This month the family settled their civil rights and wrongful death claims with the county for $4.75 million recorded as one of the largest settlements in the last 10 years.
Feinberg told the Lebanon Daily News, “It’s certainly one of the largest settlements in at least the last 10 years involving the death of a prisoner in civil rights litigation,” he also added “When there are breakdowns in the way a prison is run, and when those breakdowns cause harm like the unimaginable harm that was caused to Tori Herr, this suit shows that prisons and staff will be held accountable.”
According to Lebanon County administrator the settlement “enables all of the parties to end the litigation surrounding the tragic death of Victoria Herr in the days following her incarceration at the Lebanon County Correctional Facility in March 2015.”
The death was investigated by the Pennsylvania State Police and the Lehigh County Coroner and neither referred the matter to prosecutors for further investigation. In most cases, policymakers look at jail and prison as an opportunity to intervene and offer medical help for people with drug addictions.
The Pennsylvania Corrections Department, under Secretary John Wetzel, has started offering methadone and other drugs approved to treat opioid addiction.
Steve Seitchik, who is in charge of Medication Assisted Treatment program in the state prisons said, “The tide is turning. I think very slowly, but surely, there’s a lot of entities that have had to really look in the mirror, and ask how they are dealing with this medical crisis?”
Studies show that nationally 25 percent of individuals who are entering local jails suffer from addiction, according to vice president for legal advocacy of the National Action Center, Sally Friedman, a New York-based nonprofit. Very few if any of the facilities offer medication for detox as part of a treatment, but due to the opioid epidemic in America numbers are growing.
On March 30, Victoria Herr had begged for water and a phone call with her mother while being severely dehydrated. Stephanie Moyer (Herr’s Mother) attempted to visit later that day but was denied and told her daughter was okay. The next and last time she saw her daughter — who graduated from high school despite her heroin addiction — she was fighting for her life on a ventilator.
Feinberg stated, “The days of viewing people addicted to drugs as junkies unworthy of sympathy and care, are long past, it’s a very short chain of events that leads to death.”
Feinberg and Herr’s family hopes the lawsuit will impact even the smallest counties and remind them that they have a duty to care for inmates battling any type of addiction.