Family of man found dead in Clay County jail claim he was abused and neglected

The family of Joshua Swann is suing the county, the county sheriff and 4 deputies

CLAY COUNTY, Fla. – The family of Joshua Swann say his death was the result of neglect and abuse while inside the Clay County jail. Swann died March 6 which was 39 days after his arrest.

Swann’s sister is suing the county, the county sheriff and four deputies in a wrongful death lawsuit.

The family is asking for $5 million saying this is an egregious case of a man who died from abuse and neglect. Attorneys for the family say there is a history of bad behavior at the jail and they hope this will bring it to light.

“Devastated, completely devastated,” Heather Swann held back tears as she sat next to her attorneys.

She described the moment she learned her younger brother, Joshua, was found dead in a cell at the Clay County jail. “With somebody, or anybody that has any type of mental health issues, treating them in that way, like they are not even doing this in third world countries.”

In January, Joshua Swann voluntarily checked himself into the Orange Park Medical Center Behavioral Health floor. For most of his adult life, he’s been on medication for schizophrenia.

“He was never a violent person or combative,” Heather Swann said. “If anything, he would try to flee a situation out of fear. He knew he was starting to have an episode, so he needed to get his medication for his schizophrenia.”

According to his arrest report, Swann punched another patient in the head. Before the fight, Swann was supposed to be released, but nursing staff medicated him, because he was agitated.

Instead of keeping him in the hospital and treating him, he was arrested, and the report says he should be placed on suicide watch at the jail.

Swann tried calling the jail repeatedly, trying to tell them he needed his medication, but never got a call back.

After 39 days, Swann was found dead in his cell, a few days later the FDLE asked if he was ever suicidal and said they didn’t have information on what happened.

“It wasn’t sitting right with me, so that kind of made me want to reach out,” Swann said.

She said she heard from people who were in the jail at the same time as her brother. “Quite a few people reached and contacted me and they were like, no this is what happened. They were brutally beating my brother,” Swann said.

READ: Joshua Swann complaint

The lawsuit against Clay County, the sheriff and four deputies alleges they knew Swann had schizophrenia, denied him mental health care and medication, food and water, refused to give him care when he asked for help, and there were multiple instances of physical and mental abuse they feel the jail is covering up.

Attorney Chris Wickersham said, “There’s lots of witnesses to all of these incidents. And then there’s an eyewitness to the killing. The big irony that I see that really just burns me is, you know, the inmates are far more ethical than the officers.” Wickersham went on to say, “And none of these people have anything to gain, and everything to lose.”

Swann’s attorneys reminded us that people who are jailed are presumed innocent and haven’t been convicted. “No one should be arrested for a misdemeanor crime in a healthy physical state,” attorney Michael Yokan said. “And 39 days later be dead in an isolated cell that simply should not happen in this day and age.”

Swann hopes with this lawsuit there will be better procedures in place for inmates with mental health issues at county jails.

“This is not supposed to happen at these facilities or anywhere,” Swann said. “And to know that these individuals are still working with other inmates is appalling.”

The attorneys say the plan to serve the county with the lawsuit in the next 7 to 10 days. They say the process may take years, but they’ve started a marathon they intend to see through.

About the Author:

A Florida-born, Emmy Award winning journalist and proud NC A&T SU grad