Suit alleges indifference by Bluefield police led to man's jail death

By Lawrence Smith | Feb 9, 2012

BLUEFIELD -– A Mercer County woman alleges the city of Bluefield is responsible for her son's death while he was incarcerated in the city's jail.

BLUEFIELD -– A Mercer County woman alleges the city of Bluefield is responsible for her son's death while he was incarcerated in the city's jail.

Wanda L. Yokosuk filed a two-count civil rights suit against the city Feb. 2 in U.S. District Court. In her complaint, Yokosuk, 50, a Bluefield resident, alleges her son's death in late 2010 could've been prevented if police monitored him while he was in jail instead of assuming he was passed out drunk.

According to the complaint, Stephen Z. Yokosuk passed out in his car in the parking lot of the Bluefield McDonald's around 4 p.m. on Nov. 18, 2010. About four hours later, an unidentified employee waived at a passing Bluefield police officer to alert him to Yokosuk's condition.

Instead of calling for medical assistance, Wanda alleges police arrested Stephen, and charged him with public intoxication. Shortly thereafter, he was processed and booked at the Bluefield police station despite remaining "in such a state that it was difficult to keep him awake."

After he was booked and processed, Stephen was placed in a jail cell "where he did not move or respond for the rest of the evening or the next morning." Though other inmates found him unresponsive, but breathing, Wanda alleges nobody at the jail checked on Stephen that night.

Sometime the morning of Nov. 19, inmates informed police that Stephen had not moved the entire night. According to the suit, the response by police was that Stephen was "'a drunk and just sleeping it off.'"

However, about two hours after breakfast was served, Stephen, 21, was declared dead. An autopsy later determined he died as a result of "blood clots in his lungs which travelled up from his legs all of which were caused by him being in a state where he did not move for several hours."

According to the suit, no alcohol was found in his system.

In her suit, Wanda alleges the city of Bluefield violated Stephen's civil rights through the "deliberate indifference" of police assigned jail duty by not checking on him following his incarceration. Also, she alleges they violated his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights when they arrested him for public intoxication without verifying he was in fact intoxicated.

Along with unspecified damages, attorney fees and court costs, Yokosuk seeks a permanent injunction requiring the city of Bluefield to adopt better policies for training and supervision of its police officers. She is represented by Charleston attorneys J. Michael and Cynthia Ranson, George B. Morrone III and Charles R. "Rusty" Webb.

The case is assigned to Judge David A. Faber.

U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, case number 12-cv-229

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