Tammy Korthals

Tammy Korthals

Alleged fall in Huron County jail sparks lawsuit

Tammy Korthals
Tammy Korthals

BAD AXE — Lawyers allege a “severely intoxicated” Macomb County woman suffered serious injuries in the care of a Huron County Sheriff’s Department officer when she tumbled down a flight of stairs while trying to ascend steps with her wrists handcuffed behind her in the Huron County Jail.
Tammy Korthals of St. Clair Shores seeks a minimum of $75,000 following the Oct. 12, 2014 incident, alleging police officer Bradley Strozeski violated her constitutional right to proper care while in detention.
The lawsuit filed Feb. 1 in U.S. District Court alleges a test of Korthals’ blood at Scheurer Hospital near Pigeon following her arrest showed Korthals – 5 feet 7 inches tall and 140 pounds – had a blood-alcohol content of 0.41. That’s more than five times the level needed to convict a Michigan motorist of drunken driving.
The lawsuit demands a jury trial and claims Korthals suffered a traumatic brain injury, significant fractures to orbital bones near her left eye, a neck injury and other physical harm as a result of the fall down the stairs. Korthals struck her left eye on a half-wall and struck her head on the floor as she tried to climb the stairs – unaided by Strozeski who walked in front of her and wasn’t observing her movements at the time of the fall, according to the lawsuit.
The complaint claims that after Strozeski arrested Korthals outside an inn in Huron County’s Caseville Township, he transported her to the hospital, where a physician told Strozeski that Korthals was “medically cleared to be transported to the jail.”
“Regardless of whether (Korthals) had received medical clearance to leave the hospital … Strozeski knew that (Korthals) was severely intoxicated both at the time of her arrest and at the time of her transport to the jail, and he knew or should have known that she would not be able to walk safely without assistance in her severely intoxicated condition,” according to the lawsuit.
“For a 140-pound woman, a blood-alcohol level of 0.30 can be enough to cause death,” according to the lawsuit, filed by Korthals’ lawyer, Christopher J. Trainor, an attorney in Oakland County’s White Lake Township.
Asked about the allegations on Thursday, Huron County Sheriff Kelly J. Hanson said that “Because of the legal proceedings our corporate counsel and our attorney that’s been assigned to the case are not allowing us to release any information or make any comment.”
The Advertiser could not reach Stephen J. Allen – Huron County corporation counsel – for comment. Farmington Hills lawyers Michael E. Rosati and Holly S. Battersby, representing Strozeski and Huron County, also couldn’t be reached for comment.
A sheriff’s office online staff directory lists Strozeski as a road-patrol deputy.
The lawsuit claims Strozeski “knew or should have known that making (Korthals) walk with her hands tied behind her back would significantly increase the risk that she could stumble or fall while attempting to walk” in her condition.
After Strozeski reached Korthals following her fall, he found her unconscious and summoned help, and an ambulance arrived to transport Korthals to a hospital, according to court documents.
The lawsuit alleges Strozeski showed “wanton indifference” to the risk of injury to Korthals, claiming such indifference “was equivalent to a willingness that (Korthals) suffer an injury caused by her attempt to walk while severely intoxicated.”
Huron County officials failed to train and supervise their police officers to provide sufficient care to meet medical needs of prisoners and detainees, according to the lawsuit.
U.S. District Judge George Caram Steeh granted defense lawyers additional time to respond to Korthals’ lawsuit.
Court documents state that prior to her arrest on Oct. 12, 2014, Korthals was driving with her sister around Huron County when Randy Britt, a Caseville resident, saw their car pull over and noticed the driver and passenger switching seats.
Britt saw Korthals “was staggering and was unable to walk without supporting herself against the vehicle” as she emerged from the passenger’s seat and made her way around the car to sit in the driver’s seat, according to the lawsuit.
Britt also noticed that Korthals’ pants were unbuttoned and unzipped, and as Korthals drove away, he drove after the vehicle and called police, telling Strozeski that Korthals was driving and had been “stumbling” as she walked, according to the lawsuit.
When the women’s car stopped in a parking lot of an inn that serves alcohol, Britt stopped there, too, with two Caseville police officers arriving on scene before Strozeski, court documents state.
The lawsuit maintains Strozeski administered a breath test to Korthals, measuring her blood-alcohol content at 0.346. “Because the reading was so high, (Strozeski) suspected that his breath-testing equipment might be faulty,” the lawsuit states.
A Caseville police officer then administered a breath test, finding Korthals’ blood-alcohol level at 0.357 before Strozeski arrested Korthals for drunken driving and transported her to Scheurer Hospital, according to court documents.
Korthals “had a serious and obvious need for assistance in walking,” according to the lawsuit. This medical need, the lawsuit claims, was “obvious, in light of the facts that … Strozeski knew about her blood-alcohol level and in light of his observations of her movements, which showed that she was prone to stumbling and falling and was unable to walk without assistance.”
Tom Gilchrist is a reporter for The Advertiser and can be reached at gilchrist@tcadvertiser.com

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