Mother sues former Portsmouth sheriff, medics over daughter’s jail death

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PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — The mother of a woman who died in custody at the Portsmouth jail has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against former sheriff Bill Watson, the jail’s medical contractor and four medical personnel.

Kendra Nelson, 23, was booked into the jail in July 2016 on charges of walking in a roadway, false identity to law enforcement and contempt of court. The lawsuit was filed March 2 in Portsmouth Circuit Court by her mother, Lynda Johnston, who says Nelson had symptoms of heroin withdrawal. But Johnston says her daughter was also suffering from a heart condition.

The lawsuit alleges Watson, the jail’s medical contractor, Correct Care Solutions, and four medical personnel were grossly negligent and indifferent to Nelson’s condition, and did not give her adequate treatment.

“These people are the only people that have access to get you any help. Your life is in their hands,” Johnston said.

Her lawsuit claims that medical and jail personnel told Nelson she was just “dope sick” and faking her symptoms, and a nurse checked her and determined nothing was wrong. But something was terribly wrong. Nelson began frothing at the mouth and was soon pronounced dead, less than 24 hours after she was booked into the jail.

“Can you imagine how terrified and scared you’ve got to be, knowing that there’s something that wrong with you, knowing that there’s no family around you,” Johnston said about her daughter’s final hours.

According to the lawsuit, the Medical Examiner said Nelson died of pericarditis, a condition that affects the lining of the heart.

Sheriff Bill Watson told us by phone that his staff did everything by the book. He denies calling her “nothing but a druggie” as alleged in the lawsuit.

“I’m sorry for the family but it was not our fault. Her addiction caused her death,” Watson said.

Michael Moore replaced Watson as Portsmouth sheriff. Moore’s department has no comment on the lawsuit.

Correct Care Solutions is still the health care provider at the Portsmouth jail. Two of the four Correct Care personnel named as defendants remain on the job there.

The company declined to comment because it’s an active lawsuit.

Johnston is suing for a total of $15 million.

Read the full lawsuit here

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