St. Bernard Parish Sheriff James Pohlmann is facing a civil rights lawsuit asking for at least $18 million in damages related to the death of a 19-year-old Chalmette woman found dead last year in a cell at the parish jail.
The lawsuit, filed Thursday in federal court in New Orleans, accuses Pohlmann’s office of denying Nimali Henry appropriate medical care during her nearly two-week incarceration.
It was filed by attorney Gregory Rome on behalf of Nicholas Conners, who is the father of Henry’s young daughter.
Through a spokesman, Pohlmann declined comment on the suit.
Few new details emerged in Thursday’s court filing, which largely matches what Henry’s family said last year: that Henry had been diagnosed with thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura, a rare platelet disease that can cause blood clots to form, and that, despite repeated pleas, she was denied her medication in jail.
Henry was found unresponsive on the floor of her cell about 8 a.m. April 1, not long after a shift change among jail personnel, authorities said at the time. Officials tried to revive her, but she was pronounced dead a short time later. She had been jailed following an arrest over a domestic dispute with Conners.
St. Bernard Coroner Bryan Bertucci said last year that Henry’s death appeared to stem from a blood clot that traveled from a leg to her lungs. At the time, Henry’s family said that finding supported their belief that she died because she was denied medication.
The lawsuit says that Henry had been diagnosed with “a number of life-threatening medical conditions,” which also included an immune system disorder called Graves’ disease. The eight-page court filing claims Henry’s medical condition “rapidly and obviously deteriorated” during her 10-day incarceration. It alleges that jail personnel were “aware of some or all of (her) medical needs and observed her deteriorating physical condition.”
The lawsuit lists Pohlmann as a defendant along with one or more unnamed deputies, guards and medical personnel at the jail.
The lawsuit says jail personnel “refused or neglected” to take Henry to a hospital, instead putting her in solitary confinement, where her condition continued to worsen. She died 10 days after being arrested.
Nimali Henry’s sister, Deshawna Henry, said last year that she tried to convey to prison officials that her sister required medication. “I tried to let them know about how sick she was, and they wouldn’t listen to me,” Deshawna Henry said.
After the birth of her daughter just four months earlier, Nimali Henry was hospitalized for more than a month, her sister said, including about two weeks spent at the St. Bernard Parish Hospital, before she was transferred to Ochsner Medical Center, where she stayed for several more weeks.
Henry’s young daughter, who was 4 months old when her mother died, has since suffered a host of injuries, according to the lawsuit, including the emotional and financial toll of losing her mother.
Federal investigators are still investigating Henry’s death, Kyle Hanrahan, a spokesman for the FBI’s New Orleans office, said Thursday.
Henry was arrested March 21 following reports of a disturbance involving her and Conners at a home in St. Bernard. She was booked with disturbing the peace, simple battery and unauthorized entry, records show.
The night she was arrested, sheriff’s deputies responded to a reported disturbance and found out that she had arrived at the house uninvited and started demanding that she be allowed to see her daughter, according to an incident report. Conners, her child’s father, was visiting an 18-year-old woman who lived at the residence.
Conners told Henry that it wasn’t a good time to see the girl. The woman who lived at the residence tried to intervene, and ended up in a shoving match with Henry, the report said. Conners eventually separated the two.
Henry’s bail was set at $25,000, which her family has said was more than they could afford.
The lawsuit was assigned to U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier.
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.