Wife seeks trial by jury and files wrongful death lawsuit against Whitley County Detention Center

The wife of Aaron K. Burnette, who passed away after being held at Whitley County Detention Center, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court on November 2, explains that his wife “seeks damage” [no amount of money was disclosed] against Whitley County, Jailer Brian Lawson, jail employee Steve Claxton, officers, medical professionals, and employees of the detention center. This lawsuit comes after Mr. Burnette passed away on September 9.

His wife argues Whitley County Detention Center did not ensure the health and safety of Mr. Burnette while he was lodged in Whitley County Detention Center and that employees did not give Mr. Burnette the rights, privileges, and immunity guaranteed to him while there. She also claims Mr. Burnette was intentionally inflicted with emotional distress, negligence, gross negligence, and wrongful death.

The suit states Burnette suffered from addiction. He was arrested for a drug charge and lodged in Whitley County Detention Center on September 7.

On September 8, the suit states inmates alerted detention center staff and employees that Burnette required medical attention, "only to be told that Burnette was faking."  By 1:38 a.m., Burnette can be seen in distress and struggling to walk. For approximately the next 12 hours, Burnette was housed alone in isolation cell 183, where his condition continued to deteriorate to the point that he was struggling to breathe, was in clear delirium, and uncontrollably thrashed about on the floor of his cell.

The suit states Commonwealth of Kentucky Department of Corrections, Kentucky Jail Standards, and Whitley County Detention Center policies and procedures require detention staff to monitor and observe Burnette every 20 minutes.

At 1:09 p.m., Detention Center employee Steve Claxton observed Burnette in his clear distress, as the suit says, gave him a cup of water, and assisted him off of his cot. He grabbed Burnette’s shirt and assisted him to the hallway towards a room outfitted with video for virtual court appearances.

At 1:13 p.m., Burnette sat in front of the camera for the court appearance. He was in distress, unable to respond to the judge's questions. The judge could reportedly be heard on camera asking: "Mr. Burnette. What? What? Someone tell me whats going on with him. Is he intoxicated or what is going on?” An unidentified detention center employee allegedly spoke up and said: “He is in withdrawal.”

The suit said Jailer Brian Lawson witnessed Burnette during his virtual arraignment. Although he observed his condition, he reportedly ordered no medical evaluation of Burnette.

At 1:53 p.m., employee Steve Claxton entered his cell and found him lying on the ground unresponsive. He called for assistance, and other unidentified center staff came to the isolation cell.

At 1:58 p.m., two unidentified medical personnel entered the cell and began life-saving measures. This was reportedly the only time Burnette received medical care while at the detention center.

At 2:04 p.m., Burnette was taken from his isolation cell and later transported via ambulance to Baptist Health Corbin, where he was pronounced deceased.

The lawsuit asserts that Burnette was never properly evaluated for medical purposes and/or received medical treatment. His wife argues Whitley County Detention Center failed to follow health maintenance guidelines such as prevention of death, prevention of disease, and prevention of permanent disability.

The lawsuit seeks trial by jury, interest, punitive damages, reasonable attorneys’ fees, all compensatory damages, such equitable relief as deemed necessary, proper, and just, and all other relief that this court deems fitting and proper.

Staff Report by The Kentucky Daily

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