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Winston-Salem Journal
Wife sues Sheriff Schatzman, county over husband’s death at Forsyth jail
By Michael Hewlett
August 13th, 2015

John SmithA lawsuit alleges that Forsyth County Jail officials ignored Dino Vann Nixon’s worsening mental and physical condition over a period of three weeks until his death on Aug. 5, 2013.

Nixon, who was arrested July 11, 2013, on drug trafficking charges, had taken several prescription drugs, including Xanax, a benzodiazepine medication, for years before his arrest and told jail officials about the medication.

Jail officials, according to the lawsuit, refused to provide the medication to Nixon and failed to pay attention to Nixon’s medical condition. Nixon died four days before he was scheduled to appear in Forsyth District Court on charges of trafficking in opium or heroin. The lawsuit said Nixon suffered from “confusion, lack of sleep, tremors, bizarre and unusual behavior, a lack of alertness and awareness, and many other physical and mental manifestations of withdrawal symptoms during the entirety of his incarceration.”

Nixon’s death was related to “withdrawal from benzodiazepines in the settling of coronory artery disease” and an abnormal enlargement of the heart, the lawsuit said.

Diane Emmert Nixon filed the lawsuit July 31 in Forsyth Superior Court on behalf of her husband’s estate. The lawsuit names several defendants, including Sheriff Bill Schatzman, Forsyth County; Robert Slater, the jail’s bureau commander; Dr. John Randolph Smith, a psychiatrist at the jail; Dr. Alan Raymond Rhoades, the jail’s medical director; and Correct Care Solutions, which contracts with Forsyth County to provide jail inmate health services. Smith, Rhoades, and three other jail personnel — Kanzenner Roberson Wilks, a nurse practitioner; Christie Lois Davis, a licensed clinical social worker; and Sheila Greer, a mental health care professional — are listed as employees of Correct Care Solutions. The company has headquarters in Nashville, Tenn., and has contracted with Forsyth County since 2012. Forsyth County paid the company an estimated $11.7 million between September 2012 and August of this year.

Forsyth County commissioners approved Monday night a $4 million contract with Correct Care Solutions from September of this year through August 2016 for inmate health services.

Karla West, communications director for the company, said she could not comment on pending litigation.

Schatzman did not return a message seeking comment and Slater referred questions to Chief Deputy Brad Stanley. Stanley declined to comment Tuesday because he said officials had not been served with the lawsuit.

County Manager Dudley Watts could not be reached Tuesday for comment. Diane Nixon’s attorneys, Joe Knott and W. Ellis Boyle, declined to comment.

According to the lawsuit, Nixon had taken Xanax, Ambien and Vicodin in specific prescribed dosages for years, and he told jail officials that he was on such medications when he was booked at the jail. Nixon, however, was never given Xanax and Vicodin. He was told he had to take medication that the jail had on-hand. When his wife tried to bring his medication to the jail, she was rebuffed by jail officials, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit said Rhoades was self-serving when he reported that Nixon had been doing well between July 18 and Aug. 3 when medical records indicated otherwise, and was flat-out wrong when he wrote that liver failure could have contributed to Nixon’s death. The autopsy, the lawsuit stated, showed no substantial issues with Nixon’s liver. And in the days leading up to Nixon’s death, jail officials mistakenly believed Nixon was suffering from alcohol withdrawal symptoms, even though Nixon never had any history of alchohol abuse.

“Defendants acted like Mr. Nixon was faking his symptoms,” the lawsuit stated. “Defendants were dead wrong. Mr. Nixon died. This showed Defendants’ deliberate indifference to Mr. Nixon’s serious medical problems that led directly to his death.”

The lawsuit mentions a July 22, 2013, note from Davis, suggesting that Nixon’s insomnia was “not an acute indication for psychiatric treatment at this facility” and recommending “behavior modification.”

“Anxiety, panic, racing thoughts and difficulty sleeping are normal reactions to incarceration that can be regulated through the practice of healthy coping skills over time,” Davis wrote, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges that the county jail lacked sufficient training and policy directives to have prevented Nixon’s death.

“In fact, by their conduct, these defendants created and encouraged a culture of neglect and indifference towards inmates and detainees in the Jail,” the lawsuit stated.

Diane Nixon is seeking at least $25,000 in compensensatory and non-economic damages as well as any punitive damages that a jury might determine. A trial date has not been set.