Benton County pays $750,000 to settle inmate death lawsuit

Benton County has reached a $750,000 settlement with the family of an inmate who had a series of seizures while in custody and died days later at a Tri-City hospital.

A lawsuit filed in April in federal court accused jail staff of causing Kevin Culp’s death by depriving the 29-year-old of special anti-seizure medication and strapping him in a restraint chair after a prolonged seizure.

Benton County Sheriff Steve Keane told the Herald on Monday that a combination of mistakes led to Culp’s death. He said the death has led to policy changes at the jail, including 24-hour medical care and more thorough medical screenings.

“The death of Mr. Culp has had a profound impact on the men and women of the Benton County Sheriff’s Office,” Keane said in a message to the Herald. “This tragic accident was the result of a combination of human mistakes that were made in response to Mr. Culp’s medical condition.”

The Spokane man was shocked with a Taser and dropped on his head while officials say he was combative during a seizure. An autopsy showed he died Christmas Day 2012 from a lack of oxygen suffered while strapped in the restraint chair.

An independent investigation by the Tri-City Special Investigations Unit, which includes officers from different law enforcement agencies, determined Culp’s death was an accident. Benton County Coroner John Hansens found the Taser shock and restraint chair did not contribute to his death.

Culp, an epileptic, was transferred to the jail from Spokane County without his anti-seizure medication. Benton County jail staff say they ordered the medication, but it didn’t arrive before he had a series of seizures and then died.

Keane said as a result of Culp’s death the sheriff’s office will no longer pick up contract inmates who do not have their prescribed medications with them.

Culp suffered a tonic-clonic seizure, also known as a grand mal seizure, on Dec. 17 while in a medical unit at the jail, the lawsuit said. He was in the unit because of several seizures.

Culp — who had a documented history of tonic-clonic seizures — reportedly became disorientated and aggressive during the seizure.

“His eyes rolled back and he was foaming at the mouth. He bit himself, including his own bicep. He did not appear to be aware of his surroundings,” the lawsuit said.

Culp was shocked, removed from his cell and put in the restraint chair, the lawsuit said. His hands were cuffed behind his back and his shirt was apparently pulled over his face. Around 17 minutes later he was found unresponsive.

Doctors at Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland pronounced him brain dead eight days later.

The money from the settlement will reportedly go to Culp’s 2-year-old daughter. A portion of the money will be used to fund a special needs trust for the girl, who also may have a seizure disorder.

Benton County previously paid about $10,000 toward Culp’s funeral expenses, court documents said.

Culp had two previous manslaughter convictions, including a 2005 case where he apparently had a seizure while driving and killed three people. One of the victims was a 9-month-old boy. The other case involved a 2004 accidental shooting when a 19-year-old man died.

Culp was arrested in Spokane on parole violations related to a medical marijuana prescription before he was transferred to Benton County as a contract inmate for the state Department of Corrections, court documents said.

Tyler Richardson: 509-582-1556;; Twitter: @Ty_richardson