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Lawsuit filed in death of Arkansas man in Sebastian County jail

The family of Larry Price Jr., a Sebastian County inmate who died while awaiting trial, claim jail staff ignored his physical and mental health needs.

SEBASTIAN COUNTY, Ark. — The attorney of the estate of a Sebastian County inmate who died while in holding at the county jail and the sheriff have conflicting stories about what led up to the man's death.

"He was ignored to death," said Seattle Attorney Hank Balson, who is representing Larry Price Jr’s estate. 

"The jail medical staff were in regular contact with him," Sebastian County Sheriff Hobe Runion said during a video statement sent to 5NEWS.  

Arkansas State Police looked into Price's death as well as the Sebastian County prosecutor. Both found no one in the case acted criminally. An autopsy shows Price died from dehydration and malnutrition.

"We see a lot of horrific mistreatment in jails and prisons," Balson said. "And this is among the worst."

Price’s family filed a federal lawsuit last Friday, Jan. 13 against Sebastian County, its medical provider Turn Key Health, and some of its staff.

"They had a constitutional duty, let alone a moral duty, to not let him just suffer," Balson said.

Before he was booked into jail, Price weighed about 185 pounds. According to the lawsuit, Fort Smith EMS estimated his weight was 90 pounds when he died. The autopsy says Price was 121 pounds at his death.

"Over 12 months in jail, he lost approximately five pounds a month," Runion said.

Price was arrested in August 2020 after Fort Smith Police say he entered the police department and threatened officers. He was arrested on a terroristic threatening charge. 

"Because he couldn’t afford the $1,000 bail that would’ve allowed him to remain free as he awaited his day in court, Mr. Price spent the next year in jail, not convicted of any crime, just waiting for most of that year, despite his dire need of urgent psychiatric care," the lawsuit stated.

Price spent that year in jail until his death in August 2021. During that time, Price, who had a history of serious mental illness, was in solitary confinement.

The lawsuit states staff conducted more than 4,000 well-being checkups in the month leading up to Price's death. Each of the check-ups stating the same thing: "Inmate and Cell OK."

"Nobody can look at the window of a cell and see a person who looks like that and not recognize an emergent problem," said Balson. He says Price was neglected while in jail.

"Let me be clear," Runion said. "The jail staff gave this inmate plenty of food and water every day."

On August 29, 2021, medical staff found Price "unresponsive in a pool of standing water and urine."

"His ribs, you could see his skeleton through his very thin skin," Balson said. "He looked like the pictures we see when we see people in concentration camps."

Sheriff Runion tells 5NEWS his office is still looking into this. 

Meanwhile, Balson says Price's case brings up a lot of systemic problems with jails, such as not having proper mental health care services/providers and he says his team is ready to fight for accountability.

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