The family of a 72-year-old Gonzales man who died last November while being held at East Baton Rouge Parish Prison filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit against sheriff’s and prison officials Friday, claiming his mental and medical issues were ignored.
“It was execution by neglect,” said Franz Borghardt, one of two Baton Rouge lawyers representing Paul R. Cleveland’s son and two daughters.
Ascension Parish sheriff’s deputies arrested Cleveland at his home on Sept. 19, 2014, after he allegedly threatened to kill an Ascension Parish judge, a prosecutor and himself earlier that day at the state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal in Baton Rouge. He made the threats after losing an appeal of a DWI arrest.
Cleveland was transferred to East Baton Rouge Parish the next day and booked into Parish Prison.
He died Nov. 12 from what authorities described as severe heart problems.
Cleveland’s family repeatedly telephoned prison officials throughout his stay at Parish Prison and expressed concern for his welfare, according to the suit, which says prison officials were “completely inadequately equipped to recognize and treat” his mental illness.
Shortly after Cleveland died, an East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff’s spokeswoman said Parish Prison Warden Dennis Grimes confirmed with the parish’s Emergency Medical Services on multiple occasions that Cleveland had been monitored by medical staff.
Cleveland was found unresponsive in his cell about 4:20 a.m. on Nov. 12. He could not be revived.
The suit, which seeks damages, alleges that the inmate in the cell next to Cleveland’s witnessed three prison staffers use a Taser on Cleveland, slam the cell door on his head and leave him naked on the floor shortly before he died.
“Paul R. Cleveland died naked on the concrete floor in Cell 10 of Cellblock A1 of the EBRPP after being tased during a heart attack,” his children contend in the suit.
East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Casey Rayborn Hicks noted Friday that the coroner ruled Cleveland died of natural causes.
“We have no record of any Taser deployment by EBRSO staff from numerous witness statements,” she said in an email.
Cleveland’s death marked the third time since April 2014 that a Parish Prison inmate died while in custody. Antwoin Haden, 28, died in July 2014 of a blood clot in his lung, and Jeremy Hilliard, 23, suffered a blood clot in his lung three months earlier and died.
“They want to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else’s father,” Borghardt said of the suit by Cleveland’s children.
The suit by Paul A. Cleveland, Paris LeBlanc and Mindy Capello names East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid Gautreaux, Grimes and other prison and medical staffers as defendants.
It has been assigned to U.S. District Judge John deGravelles.