SEORJ. Photo by Conor Morris

Southeastern Ohio Regional Jail. File art by Conor Morris.

The daughter of a deceased Southeastern Ohio Regional Jail inmate filed a lawsuit on Thursday, June 25 against the jail, members of its staff and the many counties included in its jurisdiction for the alleged wrongful death of her mother.

Kelsea Mercer, along with her Cleveland area-based attorney Craig McLaughlin, sued the jail and the counties it serves — including Athens County — after her mother, Jennifer Ohlinger, reportedly fell and hit her head on a bench in June 2018 just days after arriving at the facility, leading to seizures that resulted in bleeding on her brain and eventually death.

After Ohlinger, 38, of Gallipolis, fell and hit her head, she was repeatedly and knowingly denied adequate medical care, the lawsuit alleged.

According to the lawsuit, which was filed in The United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, Ohlinger laid on the floor for a “significant” period of time having what appeared to be a seizure before other inmates summoned Officer Charity Lowery. Lowery subsequently asked Officers Amista Jarvis and Cody Gilbraith to call for the jail nurse, James Gray II.

Gray briefly examined Ohlinger, the lawsuit alleged, and instructed the officers to return her back to bed. The nurse failed to contact a doctor, transfer Ohlinger to a hospital and notify his supervisor, which the lawsuit alleged are all direct violations of the jail’s internal policies.

After Ohlinger returned to her bed, Lowery was summoned again by inmates who believed her to be experiencing another seizure. Lowery and Jarvis took Ohlinger to the jail’s medical room to be re-examined by Gray. The officers had to change her clothes because she urinated herself, according to the lawsuit.

Gray again instructed the officers to return Ohlinger to her bed, despite the jail’s polices, the lawsuit states. Two hours after the re-examination, inmates told Lowry they thought Ohlinger was dead. Lowery found her without a pulse, reportedly frothing at the mouth.

Gray and the jail Warden Josh VanBibber attempted to revive Ohlinger with CPR and called an ambulance, which took her to OhioHealth O’Bleness Hospital. She was later transferred to a level one trauma center in Columbus where she died, according to a previous report in The Athens NEWS.

The Franklin County Coroner’s Officer determined in an autopsy report in October 2018 that Ohlinger died because of brain hemorrhaging of an “undetermined etiology (original or cause),” The NEWS previously reported.

The autopsy listed the manner of her death as “undetermined.” Several family members of Ohlinger’s previously reported that Ohlinger was going through drug and/or alcohol withdrawal when she arrived at the jail, according to the 2018 report in The NEWS. The autopsy did not find any drugs in Ohlinger’s system at time of death.

VanBibber said at the time that it appeared as if the autopsy supported the jail’s position that “our medical staff did everything that they could to come to the care of Ms. Ohlinger.”

“It basically shows that there was an underlying medical condition that they wouldn’t have known about,” VanBibber previously said.

Dr. William Gormley, a neurosurgeon at Harvard Medical School, determined after reviewing videos, medical records and radiology images that Ohlinger’s death could have been prevented, according to the lawsuit.

“Sadly, Jennifer never had that chance because the defendants’ conduct sealed her fate,” the lawsuit said.

Mercer, who is the administrator of Ohlinger’s estate, is also suing Athens, Hocking, Morgan, Perry and Vinton Counties, and VanBibber, for allegedly failing to train and supervise officers and medical staff to properly address inmates’ medical emergencies.

Both VanBibber and McLaughlin did not respond to The NEWS’ requests for comment.

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