Guards ask judge to drop death charges in Muskegon jail

MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — Attorneys for four Muskegon County jail guards charged in the death of an inmate three years ago have asked a judge to dismiss the case.

They argue that it was the non-state company that provided medical care to the prison that caused the death of Paul Bulthouse39, not the guards.

sergeant. David VanderLaan and MPs Jamall Lane, Crystal Greve and Jeffery Patterson are awaiting judgment on the charge of manslaughter.

Bulthouse died in April 2019 after suffering repeated seizures in a close observation cell.

Each guard will be tried separately in Muskegon County Circuit Court, according to court records, with the first beginning June 21.

The attorneys, however, asked Circuit Judge William Marietti to dismiss the case, arguing that the state attorney general should never have filed the charges and that a district judge should never have compelled them. to stand trial.

The Attorney General has until May 17 to respond to the request.

The guards’ attorneys set out their defense in recently filed court documents – accusing Wellpath, the Tennessee-based private company that provided healthcare to the prison, of causing the death by medical malpractice.

They say the doctor working for Wellpath, Dr Joseph Natole, “completely missed Bulthouse’s addiction to benzodiazepines”.

The drug known more commonly as Klonopin is used to treat anxiety.

“It appears that Dr. Natole did not even read Bulthouse’s medical records, because if he had, then he would have known that Bulthouse had taken high doses of Klonopin for an extended period of time and that he had simultaneously abused alcohol,” the lawyers wrote. .

Instead, the doctor put Bulthouse on a five-day alcohol withdrawal program, attorneys claimed in court documents.

“Dr. Natole’s surveillance, or minimization of Bulthouse’s substance use disorder, was grossly negligent,” the attorneys wrote.

Bulthouse began showing withdrawal symptoms 11 days after being isolated from Klonopin, and suffered a grand mal seizure and died on the 12th day, the documents show.

“If the doctor had noted his benzodiazepine addiction and treated it properly, then Bulthouse would not have died,” the lawyers claimed.

There was no way, they said, the guards could have known what was going to happen.

“The defendants, unlike the Wellpath medical professionals, had no way of knowing that Bulthouse was at elevated risk of suffering a life-threatening grand mal seizure induced by benzopiazepine withdrawal twelve days after his incarceration,” wrote the lawyers.

Attorneys for the guards acknowledged that one of the guards, Deputy Patterson, witnessed a 12-second seizure, but said he immediately reported it to medical staff.

Bulthouse received no medical attention after that.

They also blamed other Wellpath workers, including an EMT who told guards Bulthouse was faking after he began shaking violently during an escape attempt days before he died.

Lawyers likened the case to a prison deputy monitoring a prisoner being treated for Klonopin withdrawal at a hospital after the hospital misdiagnosed the condition.

“One night, the inmate starts acting weird” in the hospital room. The guard reports this to a nurse, who checks the inmate’s vital signs and tells the guard that the inmate is “stable”. Throughout the night, nurses continue to report that he is stable.

“At some point during the night, the inmate has a massive seizure and the inmate dies,” the lawyers’ script continued.

“Who is responsible for the death of this prisoner? MPs ? Or was it the doctor who failed to properly assess and treat the inmate’s benzodiazpene addiction? Or was it the nurses who checked the inmate’s vital signs and determined that the inmate was in stable condition? ” they asked.

“Surely no one in their right mind would argue that MPs should be held criminally responsible for the inmate’s death,” the lawyers wrote.

Target 8 could not reach Dr. Natole or Wellpath for comment.

Lawyers also blamed Healthwest, the Muskegon-based for-profit that the prison paid to provide mental health and addictions treatment to inmates.

“Because Bulthouse refused to wear clothes and was naked, Healthwest physicians refused to see Bulthouse,” the attorneys wrote.

“Since Healthwest is supposed to handle all inmate psychological, psychiatric and substance abuse issues, it is silly that they have a policy of denying treatment to an inmate who refuses to wear clothing…In fact, a refusal to wear clothing could be considered a clinical indication that an inmate had a mental health problem.Healthwest’s policy can be said to have delayed Bulthouse’s treatment and contributed to his death.

The death led to out-of-court settlements for Bulthouse’s family – $2.4 million from the county and for an undisclosed amount from Wellpath.

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