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Lawsuit filed over jail inmate’s death

SANTA FE – The sister of a man who died at the Santa Fe County jail two years ago has filed a lawsuit against the county and two jail medical staffers for not properly completing his medical intake screening forms that would have shown he needed medical care for alcohol withdrawal. It also alleges that he was not given medical treatment when he starting showing signs of withdrawal.

Thomas Pederson, 55, of Santa Fe, was pronounced dead at the jail March 16, 2015, after he collapsed and apparently had a seizure. Pederson was arrested March 13, 2015, after a State Police officer found him asleep in his parked car on Paseo de Alameda and Siler Road. He was taken to Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, where he was found to have a blood alcohol content of 0.48 percent, six times the legal driving limit of .08. He was charged with misdemeanor counts of driving while intoxicated, careless driving, not maintaining his lane and driving with an open alcohol container.

Pederson was taken to the county lockup and, on the evening of March 15, collapsed on the floor and appeared to be having a seizure, the complaint says. Attempts to revive him by emergency medical personnel were unsuccessful.

Pederson’s sister, who lives in Michigan, filed a lawsuit in District Court on Wednesday, saying her brother was deprived of his due process rights because the jail failed to properly conduct his intake screening. She is asking for compensatory and punitive damages, as well as legal fees.

Accountable Healthcare Staffing Inc. is named in the suit, but will be voluntarily dropped from the complaint if it’s found that the company didn’t employ the jail staffers at that time, the suit says.

The complaint says alcohol withdrawal may have caused his death, per his autopsy report. “Because no alcohol was detected in Mr. Pederson’s system, alcohol withdrawal was not excluded as a cause of death,” it says.

The suit claims that a female nurse who conducted Pederson’s intake didn’t review his hospital treatment records, “which would have alerted her to his dangerously high BAC and his great potential for severe alcohol withdrawal.” It also says that the nurse failed to sign and complete multiple portions of Pederson’s intake screening forms, and didn’t do an assessment that would have ensured his placement in the medical unit.

Another inmate told deputies investigating Pederson’s death that he overheard Pederson ask an unnamed male nurse for medical assistance, but the man allegedly didn’t give Pederson any medication and told him that he needed a medical slip.

Santa Fe County spokeswoman Christine Mehilcic said the county doesn’t comment on pending or threatened litigation.

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