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Wrongful death trial against two Coryell County jailers set for next summer

Posted at 3:52 PM, Apr 22, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-23 09:24:07-04

CORYELL COUNTY, TX — The trial for Coryell County and two of the county's jailers named in a lawsuit for the wrongful death of an inmate has been set for July 2020.

The lawsuit was filed at the end of January 2019, about 15 months after Kelli Page died while in the custody of the Coryell County Jail. She was 46 years old and a mother of five children.

The lawsuit, filed by attorney Michael T. O'Connor on behalf of Page's parents, states that their daughter's death was due to Coryell County's custom, policy, and/or practices and two Coryell County jailers, Steven Lovelady and Wesley Pelfrey. Page died in her jail cell.

DAYS BEFORE HER DEATH

Page had spent over five months incarcerated at the Coryell County Jail before her death on Oct. 8, 2017.

According to the lawsuit, on the days leading up to her death, Page was removed from her jail cell "in a manner violating numerous Coryell County jail extraction policies."

The lawsuit said that when she was removed on Oct. 7 by jailers Lovelady and Washington, her head and face hit the jail cell wall causing a black eye significant enough for jailers to take her to Coryell Memorial Hospital for medical care.

She had known medical issues, including swelling in both of her legs.

A jail employee made a call to Southern Health Partners, and informed them that one of Page's feet was turning blue and was swollen. The healthcare provider suggested she be taken to the hospital emergency room immediately.

“Jailer Lovelady was aware of Kelli’s issue arising on the same day that he had chosen to use force with her, ultimately causing a hospital visit due to her suffering a black eye when hitting the cell wall," the lawsuit says.

Her health record shows she had shortness of breath, heart problems and high blood pressure.

VIDEO FROM DAY OF DEATH

Video captured most of Page's last morning alive on Oct. 8, 2017.

The lawsuit claims video evidence shows her not doing much of anything - not acting acting aggressively and not being a danger to herself or others.

“Kelli simply appears to be a person in a cell who was bored and wants to communicate with other human beings,” the lawsuit says.

According to the lawsuit, the 20 seconds of time leading to the point where the jailers entered the cell was not recorded on video. The lawsuit states she was not doing anything that would require cell extraction and placement into a restraint.

Video shows Lovelady spray what is believed to be pepper spray into Page's cell through the door slot designed for passing food and other items. After entering the cell, he sprayed her multiple times.

The lawsuit says at one point, Page picked up a blanket to cover her head and protect herself from "the continued administration" of pepper spray.

Lovelady then grabs Page's wrist while standing behind her, pulls her arm and slams her to the concrete floor face-down, the lawsuit says.

During the next few minutes, Page is held down by the weight of Lovelady and Pelfrey. She was punched in the face twice by Lovelady and handcuffed.

“At some point during the use of force by Defendants Lovelady and Pelfrey, Kelli’s body goes limp," the lawsuit alleges.

Video shows Page's body go limp as she's lying on her back. Pelfrey unlocked her handcuffs and Lovelady started chest compressions, but was unsuccessful in reviving her.

The lawsuit says that Page's death is due to the force used by the two jailers.

THE LAWSUIT

The lawsuit claims Lovelady and Pelfrey chose not to comply with the jail manual policy on cell extractions and therefore the county is also liable for failing to staff the jail so that compliance with the policy would occur.

“Will maintain a well-trained cell extraction team in order to remove offenders from their cells when their behavior poses a threat to the smooth operation of the jail or themselves," it says.

The Coryell County Jail manual policy on cell extractions contains the following requirements:

  • Each team member, unless directed otherwise by the team leader, will perform his or her own specific assignment
  • There is to be no talking between team members when inside a cell, other than an announcement of when restraints have been applied, and then simply the statement "handcuffs on" and/or "leg irons on."
  • The sequence of staff members should not be broken when executing a cell extraction.
  • There must always be one or two alternate staff members standing by in the event they are needed.
  • Each cell extraction team must have the following equipment: Helmet clearly marked by a number or letter to identify the staff member and assignment; flak vest; groin protector; leather gloves; gas mask; shin guards; elbow pads; jumpsuit/coveralls properly marked for identification; and shield.

“Their failure to comply with such policies is evidence of unreasonableness and deliberate indifference giving rise to Fourth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment violation claims,” the lawsuit says.

The Dallas County Medical Examiner's office ruled Page's death as a homicide.

The medical examiner wrote she died as a result of mechanical asphyxia in association with physical restraint. The examiner added hypertensive cardiovascular disease cirrhosis and obesity likely contributed to the cause of her death.

The lawsuit said the Coryell County Sheriff noted that Page had been treated for a medical condition which he believed caused her death.

While Lovelady had gone through numerous trainings prior to to the incident, Pelfrey had not had a single hour of training relating to jail operations, etc., the lawsuit claims.

Lovelady began working for the Coryell County Sheriff's Office in May 2004. Pelfrey completed the basic county jail course on March 29, 2018 in Bell County, months after Page's death.

The lawsuit added the county is liable for her death by failing to provide reasonable medical care for Page, citing that she needed to have her inhaler refilled, and one or more employees failed to do so. The jail was also notified of health issues relating to Page in July 2017.

Lastly, the lawsuit believes cases like Page's and actions of Lovelady and Pelfrey are consistent with Coryell County Jail employee culture.

The lawsuit cited two examples of this. On Oct. 11, 2017, two jailers surrendered to the sheriff after one of them put pepper spray into a prisoner's food. In January 2017, two jailers were arrested for selling drugs to county jail inmates.

Page's family is seeking compensation on damages relating to the loss of services they would have received from her, her funeral expenses, past and any future mental anguish and emotional distress suffered by her family and caused by her death, loss of companionship and society they would have received from Page and exemplary and punitive damages.

You can read the entire lawsuit below: