Family of slain Kansas inmate files federal lawsuit
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The family of a slain Kansas inmate filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday alleging a systemic disregard for the health and safety of prisoners housed at the Meade County jail.
The complaint filed in U.S. District Court stems from the Aug. 29, 2017, death of Joshua DeVilbiss by another inmate. The prisoners had been transferred to the Meade County facility to alleviate overcrowding in the Sedgwick County jail.
The lawsuit filed against various officials in Sedgwick and Meade counties alleges DeVilbiss “not only experienced extensive pain and suffering, but he died a horrible and preventable death.”
A spokesman for the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment on the pending lawsuit. But in a 2017 news release issued about the inmate death, the sheriff’s office said the 30-year-old Wichita man who died was being held on unspecified misdemeanor charges and had been in custody for almost a month. It also noted that Sedgwick County, at the time, had 43 inmates housed at the Meade County jail.
Meade County Sheriff Mark Miller said he had not seen the lawsuit, and did not immediately respond after The Associated Press emailed him a copy of the complaint.
Sedgwick County has long had a problem with overcrowding, said attorney Gerald Lee Cross, Jr., who’s representing the DeVilbiss family. He added that DeVilbiss was put into a prison population with other people who were facing violent charges, as well as inmates with mental health issues that were not being addressed.
“I anticipate that both counties are going to speak to the failure at the state and federal level to address mental health in the general prison population, but at the end of the day there are so many institutional failures here within both departments,” Cross said. “I think both systems are choosing process over people.”
The lawsuit said DeVilbiss was suffering from some undisclosed illness, urinating blood, when he was finally granted permission to transfer back to the Sedgwick County jail to get medical treatment. He was in pain from his medical condition, starving from being underfed and had been receiving threats to his life because he had to gamble for food, according to the suit.
But before he could be moved, an inmate identified as D’Anthony Andrews in the lawsuit learned of the impending transfer, became furious at a perceived lack of respect and threatened DeVilbiss.
The lawsuit alleges Andrews struck DeVilbiss from behind near a sleeping area, knocking him unconscious. After being unable to revive him, several inmates moved him to a shower area where his body was later found.
Andrews pleaded no contest to a reduced charge of involuntary manslaughter in a plea agreement with prosecutors, according the court filing. He was treated for mental illness at the Larned Correctional Mental Health Facility and later transferred to the El Dorado Correctional Facility.
Andrews is also named as a defendant in the civil lawsuit filed by DeVilbiss’ family.