32-year-old David Stojcevski was put under suicide watch for erratic behavior. Negligence of prison guards in a high observation unit caused him to die in custody, under their ‘watchful’ eye. David had been fined $772 for careless driving. He was financially unable to pay the fines, so instead he was sentenced to spend 30 days in Macomb County Jail (Michigan). His family did not expect that to become a life sentence.
The video procured via freedom of information requests (FOIA) by Kevin Dietz, Local 4 Defenders investigator, shows Stojcevski in his final 17 days. In the video you can see Stojcevski unable to move from the cold cement floor of the jail cell. He lost 50 pounds within 17 days and is visibly infirm. On his last two days, Stojcevski doesn’t have the energy and will to stand, and so there he lies and there he dies.
In his last moments, Stojcevski is recorded convulsing and twitching as his body begins to shut down. Doctor Donna Rockwell, clinical psychologist and mental health expert, watches the chilling video and remarks,
“oh boy, it’s very hard to watch. Wow, um, I can’t believe anybody was in charge of looking at this video, or looking at this camera and didn’t do anything to help this human being.”
Before the sentencing, Stojcevski had been examined by a nurse and they had suggested that he be placed in a detoxification cell. The recommendation of the medical professional was rejected and he was instead placed in a regular cell. He was later transferred to a suicide watch cell for erratic behavior that could have been associated with his obvious withdrawal symptoms.
Stojcevski had been addicted to drugs from youth, but he had gotten help for his addiction by a doctor who had prescribed him Methadone, Xanax, and Klonopin. Without his prescriptions, Stojcevski went into severe withdrawal and nobody had noted anything worth evaluating, stating callously
“it’s a very obvious sign of withdrawal and anybody who even has 2 minutes of training knows that.”
Stojcevski received medical attention in the beginning, but it quickly subsided and resulted in Stojcevski been so physically weak that he hid under his cell bed to escape the lights that were on 24/7. Dr. Rockwell made other observations:
“…like an animal he’s climbing underneath something to die… There’s not one second of looking at that video where I think that he might be faking. It is obvious that he is not faking.”
Kevin Sietz was able to reach corporate counsel who said that the case “lacks legal merit.”
The news brings to mind debtors’ imprisonment and whether or not is was constitutional to sentence Stojcevski to prison. The answer is not so simple: under the 1970 Williams v. Illinois, the Court decided that judges could not extend imprisonment for a person who may be too poor to pay under the fourteenth amendment. It is not unconstitutional for a judge to sentence a man to the maximum penalty by law. The incident occurred in Mount Clemens, Michigan, where it is lawful for a person to be sentenced to imprisonment if they have not paid the fines within a time range set by the judge. In 1971, the Court ruled on Tate v. Short that because an indigent cannot or will not pay a fine, the judge cannot then revert the sentence to imprisonment. In the 1983 ruling for Bearden v. Georgia, the Court ruled that a court could not revoke probation for a person who was unable to pay their fines without examining whether they are solvent and considering other options. So the sentence is in conflict with Tate v. Short because he was fined and then sentenced to imprisonment for his inability to liquidate his debt, moreover it was the court’s fault for not having placed David in the detoxification cell, which could have resulted in a drastically different outcome.
Where there’s smoke there’s fire
In 2014, a man was beaten to death by his cellmate in the Macomb County Jail. The mother is suing the jail for more than $75,000, according to Detroit Free Press. Along with this lawsuit, there are five other inmates who seek $10 million their lawsuit that alleges mistreatment in the jail’s mental health unit.
I wonder after taking all this into account whether Stojcevski’s death could have been prevented at all, even if he was placed in the detoxification cell? Seems like their is some serious negligence and apathy surrounding the county jail.