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Wilkinson County to pay $420,000 settlement in woman's jail death

A federal wrongful-death lawsuit says Cynthia Mixon died after jail officials withheld her prescription medication.
Credit: Wilkinson County Sheriff's Office

IRWINTON, Ga. — Wilkinson County has agreed to pay a $420,000 settlement to the family of a jail inmate who died after deputies withheld her prescription medication.

Cynthia Mixon turned herself in to the Wilkinson County jail in January 2015 to face two arrest warrants in a drug bust.

According to court documents, Mixon had a seizure in her jail cell early in the morning on Jan. 30, 2015.

Mixon, a mother of five, later died at a hospital.

RELATED: Wilkinson woman arrested in drug bust dies in jail

A federal wrongful-death lawsuit filed by her son, Shaun Brooks, said Mixon was being treated for several conditions. They included high blood pressure, a back injury, and seizures.

MORE: Son sues Wilkinson Co. after mother's jail death

The lawsuit argued the Wilkinson County jail didn't screen incoming inmates for medical problems and never followed up to find what medications Mixon needed.

A family friend brought all her medication and asked jail staff to make sure Mixon received it, court documents say.

But jail administrator Thomas "Buster" King refused to give Mixon her prescription drugs, the records show.

'We're not running a rehab center'

Court documents say that King told the parent of another inmate, "We're not running a rehab center here. We're gonna dry these people out."

This spring, a federal judge wrote that King knew Mixon had a valid prescription for oxycodone and denying her medication put Mixon at serious risk.

Her symptoms were consistent with opioid withdrawal, including nausea, diarrhea and fever.

"King took no steps whatsoever to treat Mixon's condition or otherwise provide her with medical care," Judge Tilman Self wrote last May.

He wrote that a jury might find King's actions "more than grossly negligent."

Lawyers for Brooks wrote that Wilkinson County Sheriff Richard Chatman didn't employ any medical professionals at his jail.

Instead, King, "a jailer with no formal medical training," made all decisions about which inmates needed medical treatment and medication. 

In his ruling last spring, Self wrote that Chatman and Wilkinson County were not legally liable for Mixon's death, but said some complaints against King and three other jail employees should go forward.

King and jailers Jared Ricketson, Diane Lindsey, and Laffiani Boyd had appealed Self's ruling to a federal appeals court in Atlanta.

That appeal was still pending when lawyers for both sides settled the case in mid-December.

Although a medical examiner ruled that Mixon died from hypertensive cardiovascular disease, a potential defense expert witness claimed that her death was likely caused by opioid withdrawal. Self ruled that the jury should hear that witness testify and decide for themselves.

'They feel that they've gotten some measure of justice'

Mark Begnaud, one of the lawyers for Brooks, said Mixon's family is pleased with the settlement.

"Through the lawsuit, they were able to get some answers about what happened in the jail, and they feel that they've gotten some measure of justice," Begnaud said. "Now they can more forward, knowing they fought hard for Cynthia."

He says Mixon's family is pleased that Wilkinson County has improved care for its inmates by hiring a jail nurse since the lawsuit was filed.

Begnaud says the family also hopes to send a wake-up call to sheriffs across the state to protect inmates at risk of withdrawal.

"Just because a person is in custody, she deserves the same medical care as the rest of us," Begnaud said. "If this lawsuit can help another inmate from dying, we will have done some good."

He says the $420,000 settlement will be funded by a pool of Georgia counties that agree to self-insure each others' legal losses.

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