The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department will pay $475,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by the wife of a 71-year-old Venice poet who died in 2002 after his jailers allegedly failed to provide him adequate medical care.
The lawsuit alleged that John Thomas Idlet was in poor medical condition when he was booked into jail to serve a four-month sentence for a sex offense but did not see a doctor for more than two weeks.
The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to pay the settlement, bringing to nearly $5 million the amount the county has paid since December to resolve jail-related lawsuits. Three of the five settlements involved medical care of inmates who died while in custody.
Among other things, the lawsuit over Idlet's death alleged that nurses failed to ask a doctor to examine him even though he complained numerous times of shortness of breath and swelling in his feet. Idlet had to wait 38 hours in a wheelchair before he was given a bed and was not regularly given medication to treat his ailments, the suit alleged.
On the night before his death, Idlet was found on the jail floor, short of breath and having defecated on himself. Even then, no doctor examined him, his wife alleged. Nursing staff rolled Idlet onto an egg crate mattress because they were unable to lift the 350-pound man onto his bed.
About three hours later, a doctor ordered Idlet transferred to County USC Medical Center after nurses said he had dangerously low blood pressure and poor oxygen saturation. He died later that day.
In an evaluation of the case, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that the jail medical facility was not equipped to care for acutely ill patients. County attorneys, in a summary of the case for supervisors, conceded that medical experts probably would have criticized sheriff's staff for failing to transfer him to the hospital sooner than they did.
The Times reported last year that Los Angeles County Jail inmates, the vast majority of whom have not been convicted of crimes, often wait days or weeks for exams they are supposed to receive within 24 hours of requesting medical care. Twenty percent of inmates who ask to see a doctor are released from jail without being examined, The Times found.
Idlet had been convicted of unlawful sexual contact with his daughter in the 1970s, when she was 15. He was sentenced to 120 days in jail. He pleaded no contest to the crime decades after it took place.
Although just a fraction of his work was published during his lifetime, Idlet's "The Ghosts of the Poets" is engraved in a concrete wall on the Venice boardwalk.