The responsibility for the death of 18-year-old A. J. Longsoldier shifted again, with a Sept. 20 report placing more blame on Hill and Blaine counties’ law enforcement.
A Montana Human Rights Bureau commission decided that Hill and Blaine county law enforcement should have done more to prevent Longsoldier’s death. This overturned a prior finding by the Department of Labor and Industry’s Hearings Bureau, that said the law enforcement officers did the best they could with the information and training they had.
The days prior to Longsoldier’s death started with an arrest on Nov. 19.
According to the report, Longsoldier had been arrested and treated for alcoholism “repeatedly” and officially supervised by the Blaine County Juvenile Detention and Probation Office.
After he turned 18 in June 2009, the probation office needed to find him, so they could end this official supervision. They requested that he be arrested and held until he could attend the hearing to end his juvenile punishment.
Blaine County deputies arrested Longsoldier at 3:30 a. m. Thursday, Nov. 19, and brought to the Hill County Detention Center.
By 7 p. m. Saturday, Nov. 21, detention center staff reported that Longsoldier “had been in alcohol withdrawal three days and needed to be medically evaluated because he was hallucinating and unable to sleep, ” according to the commission’s report.
They called the Blaine County Sheriff’s Office, where a dispatcher allowed them to take Longsoldier to the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation hospital, 47 miles away, but the Fort Belknap health staff advised the detention center to take him to Northern Montana Hospital, less than three miles away.
At the hospital that evening Longsoldier was given water to drink and anti-anxiety medications, Ativan and Cymbalta, to calm his system enough that he could eat, drink or sleep for the first time since his arrest almost three days prior.
The doctor wrote prescriptions for each medication, to be taken once every four hours, and gave six Ativan to last until the full prescriptions could be filled. But, according to the report, a Northern Montana Hospital emergency room nurse forgot to give the initial six pills to the Blaine County deputy who was transporting Longsoldier.
The deputy did pick up the written prescriptions, and gave them to the Hill County Detention Center staff, but they were never filled. The report says that, although the commercial pharmacies in Havre were closed, they could have filled the prescription back at the hospital. They also didn’t go the next day, Longsoldier’s last.
“On Sundays, prescriptions for Detention Center prisoners were typically filled at the local Kmart or Western Drug pharmacies, ” the report says. “But this typical practice was not followed. ”
Longsoldier returned to the jail by 9 p. m. Saturday night; by Sunday morning he was still getting worse.
Detention Center staff called the hospital to describe his symptoms — shivering, screaming, hallucinating and fever — and ask for advice. According to the report an emergency room nurse told the jailers that Longsoldier was probably just “playing them. ”
All Sunday his condition deteriorated until detention center staff found him that evening, “shivering and nonresponsive” in his cell.
He was taken to the hospital around midnight. Two hours later, he was dead.
The original hearing determined that Hill and Blaine law enforcement were doing their best and following the instructions of the health care workers they consulted.
The newer finding said that the law enforcement’s lack of training or know-how in handling this type of situation was not an excuse, but a liability. Particularly when paired with detention center staff testimony that indicated that about half of their inmates suffer from “alcohol-related issue. ”
As well as sending the complaint back to the Hearings Bureau, the commission ordered “periodic and recurrent training for law enforcement personnel of Hill and Blaine counties regarding the medical risks and appropriate treatment of persons experiencing alcohol withdrawal while under county supervision. ”
The hearings to determine other specific measures to be taken will be scheduled by the Hearings Bureau.
Attorneys for Hill and Blaine counties could not be reached for comment by deadline today.
Northern Montana Hospital declined to comment on the new findings.