Gatesville: County gets more time to prepare in inmate death lawsuit

Kelli Leanne Page. (Jail photo)
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GATESVILLE, Texas (KWTX) Attorneys for Coryell County and two county jailers were granted more time this week to prepare their defenses in a lawsuit that charges the county and the two individuals with responsibility for the death of an inmate.

Kelli Leanne Page was 46 when she died on Oct. 8, 2017 after Coryell County jailers extracted her from her jail cell, attorney T. Dean Malone said in his original complaint in the matter, filed in the U.S. District Court, in Waco, on Jan. 30.

Malone filed the federal lawsuit acting for John Fairchild and Susie Fairchild, who are acting as administrators on behalf of the Page estate and on behalf of any heirs to the estate, the complaint says.

On Wednesday, attorneys acting for Wesley Harland Pelfrey, Steven Russell Lovelady and for Coryell County “requested an extension of time to answer or otherwise plead in response to plaintiffs' original complaint,” the requests read.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey C. Manske granted the requests and reset the date for receipt of the responses for March 11, the judge’s order reads.

The original complaint says Page had been arrested and was being held in the jail, where jail employees were aware that she was extremely obese and suffered from several other underlying health issues, the complaint says.

Video from that day shows at the time of the incident Page was inside her cell and not acting aggressively, but when two officers entered her cell they sprayed her with a chemical suppressant and slammed her to the floor, the complaint says.

“She was ultimately held in a prone position – face down – with weight being put on her upper body area by one jailer and on her lower body area by another jailer.”

An autopsy, conducted by the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences, at Dallas, revealed that, “She was eventually restrained in a prone position with one officer putting force on her upper back region and another officer putting force on her buttocks/thighs until she became unresponsive."

The medical examiner reported, based upon evidence in the case and his experience, “Kelli Leanne Page, a 46-year-old female, died as a result of mechanical asphyxia in association with physical restraint,” and "Hypertensive cardiovascular disease, cirrhosis, and obesity likely contributed to the cause of death."

The medical examiner listed as the manner of death, “Homicide.”

“There is evidence indicating that Coryell County, while having a written cell extraction policy contemplating the use of at least five jailers, failed to adequately staff the jail and/or had a custom of not enforcing the policy,” Malone said.

Coryell County had a constitutional obligation to Kelli, as a pre-trial detainee who had not been convicted of anything, to act reasonably when using any force with her, he said. Kelli’s death was an unnecessary, tragic result of events that should have never happened.”