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In Macomb County man's jail death, a horrifying intersection of big issues

Family photo

A horrific video showing a naked man slowly dying in a Macomb County jail cell is sparking local and national outrage.

The death of David Stojcevski brings into sharp focus the overlap between some issues that have drawn intense scrutiny recently: deaths of people in police custody, people being jailed for minor offenses because they can’t afford to pay fines, and the opioid addiction crisis.

The video of Stojcevski’s death was brought to light by WDIV’s Kevin Dietzjust this week.

But it ultimately stems from a federal lawsuit Stojcevski’s family filed in March, which names the county, sheriff Anthony Wickersham, a number of other county employees, and private contractor Correct Care Solutions as defendants.

Stojcevski, 32, was picked up as part of a county-wide warrant sweep on June 11, 2014. At that time, he faced a choice between paying $774 in fines stemming from a careless driving charge, or 30 days in jail.

Unable to pay the fine, Stojcevski was jailed. Showing obvious signs of drug addiction, he was at first placed in the Macomb County jail’s medical detox unit, where after several days his detox process was pronounced “complete.”

But Stojcevski began exhibiting disturbing behavior, with officers reporting that he was “hallucinating and talking to people that are not there, and also stated that he died earlier today,” according to the family’s lawsuit.

Stojcveski was then moved to the jail’s mental health unit, where for precautionary reasons he was stripped of all his clothing and put under 24-hour video surveillance. There, according to court filings, he repeatedly requested medication he had been prescribed to deal with opioid withdrawal.

He never received that medication, however. And in the following days, chronicled in video footage monitored continuously by county jail guards, you can see Stojcevski begin the long, painful decline that ends in his death.

See the video here(warning: excerpts of the video included in the WDIV story are graphic and disturbing).

“The defendants ignored facts that David was exhibiting obvious signs of withdrawal, starvation, and dehydration and kept David locked in his cell immediately prior to his death,” the complaint alleges.

Stojcevski was found unresponsive and rushed to the hospital on June 27, but within hours was declared dead from “acute withdrawal,” compounded by dehydration and seizures. He had lost 50 pounds during his 16 days in jail.

“..All of the named defendants were so deliberately indifferent to David’s mental health and medical needs, that [they]…monitored, watched and observed David spend the final ten days of this life suffering excruciating benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms,” the complaint reads.

The family’s lawsuit asserts that Stojcevski’s death in Macomb County custody amounted to “cruel and unusual punishment,” among other charges.

His brother Vladimir, who was arrested and jailed for driving with a suspended license as part of the same warrant sweep, is also suing. He claims that he was similarly mistreated in the jail and only taken to a hospital after repeated seizures, and bouts of vomiting and incontinence that soiled his clothes for days.

Compounding matters, the lawsuit also claims that on June 19, a district court ordered Stojcevski released upon enrollment in a “community corrections” program--but for some reason, that order was never carried out.

The lawsuit also highlights ongoing accusations of conditions in the Macomb County jail, citing “previous incidents” where incarcerated people were “not afforded proper medical treatment, mental health treatment, and/or nursing care,” particularly for those suffering from mental illness or drug withdrawal.

In August, six inmates in the mental health section of the jail filed a hand-written federal lawsuit alleging that “conditions within the jail, and within the mental health ward in particular, [fail] to ensure the protection of inmates civil and/or constitutional rights.”

They level a variety of charges, accusing one corrections officer of threatening, mocking and “tormenting” mentally ill inmates by threatening to tamper with food, and turning on speakers to “repeatedly tell them he is the one stealing their thoughts.”

They also claim that inmates are “punished” by being housed in cells without a blanket or mattress; that they are denied access to legal resources and communications; and that at least one patient with bipolar disorder has consistently been denied medication.

While declining to comment directly on the case, Macomb County officials have maintained that jail staff followed “proper procedures” in Stojcevski’s case.

In a motion dismiss the lawsuit, county lawyers claim that, among other things, the inmates have no standing to sue. They reportedly plan to fight the case at trial.  

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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