The girlfriend of a man who died after he was pepper-sprayed in 2014 at the Somerset County Jail and the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office have agreed to settle a lawsuit that could eventually net herself and her son close to $1.2 million.

Pamela Swett charged in the suit that her boyfriend, Joseph Daoust, was denied proper medical treatment while he was waiting to go to court and that negligence by corrections officers led to his death.

Daoust, a 27-year-old Wilton man, was being held at the jail on drug trafficking charges in May 2014 when he died of a pulmonary hemorrhage — bleeding of the lungs — after he was pepper-sprayed at the jail.

Swett’s lawsuit, filed in April in U.S. District Court in Bangor, names then-Sheriff Barry DeLong and four corrections officers and states that the sheriff’s office denied Daoust the medical attention he needed and failed to get him mental and medical care while officers watched him die for nearly two hours.

Information from an autopsy on Daoust’s body, included in the lawsuit, shows his death might have been caused by pepper spray.

It also says when Daoust wasn’t treated for drug withdrawal, it led to behavioral problems that caused the sheriff’s office to pepper-spray him, a factor that the lawsuit says could have caused his respiratory problems and ultimately led to his death.

A judge ruled in November that the case will be settled. The details are scheduled to be finalized by early February.

Court documents filed last week showed that the sheriff’s office is being asked to pay $850,000 to Swett, including covering her attorney’s fees and a bank fund of $550,000 to be set up for the son she had with Daoust. That annuity could eventually net Swett and her son as much as $1.2 million, court documents showed. The documents have since been sealed.

Swett’s attorney, Jonathan Sahrbeck, declined to comment on the case and said neither he nor Swett could comment while the litigation is pending.

Dale Lancaster, the current Somerset County sheriff, said last week he has a “strong opinion” on the case, but he declined to elaborate. He also would not say whether the four corrections officers accused in the suit still are working at the jail or whether they have been reprimanded in any way. DeLong retired in December 2014.

“I’m absolutely heartbroken,” Terri Lynn Daoust, Daoust’s mother, said Wednesday. “I have no comment on anything. I have nothing. I have a grieving little boy who lost his dad. We have nothing and I have nothing to say.”

Peter Marchesi, an attorney for Somerset County and DeLong, could not be reached for comment Wednesday. Marvin H. Glazier, an attorney for Sgt. Benjamin Ducharme, of the sheriff’s office, also named in the suit, did not respond to a request for comment. John Wall, an attorney for corrections officers Gerard Bussell and Scott Libby, named in the suit, declined to comment. Also named in the suit was Jeffrey Jacques.

In court records, the sheriff’s office has denied responsibility for Daoust’s death.

The cause of the hemorrhage was unknown, DeLong said after Daoust died.

“His lungs filled with liquid and he basically drowned,” DeLong told the Morning Sentinel in 2014. “They don’t know how it happened — it could have been a thousand things.”

‘AGGRESSIVE BEHAVIOR’

Daoust was charged with two counts of aggravated trafficking in illegal drugs and criminal threatening with a firearm. He was a pre-trial detainee being held on bail at the Somerset County Jail for charges filed in Franklin County.

When he was taken to the Somerset County Jail in May 2014, Daoust was questioned about his medical history and reported that he was receiving methadone treatment and was on a prescription for anxiety. He also reported taking Seroquel, an antipsychotic medication, and marijuana.

Upon his incarceration, Daoust was taken off the methadone and his anxiety medication and was put in an opiate detoxification program at the jail, Swett’s suit said.

He was not assessed for withdrawal from the antipsychotic medication, something the suit said could cause “agitation, hostility, aggressive behavior and paranoia.”

Four days later, Daoust began to exhibit aggressive behavior and was evaluated by a mental health professional, whom he told he was bipolar and took medication for it. The suit did not say whether Daoust was permitted to take the bipolar medication.

On May 23, when Daoust refused to leave his cell for scheduled maintenance, he was pepper-sprayed and requested medical attention. A nurse reported that he had elevated breathing and that his face was red.

Daoust’s behavior got worse and he was refusing to take medications in the days that followed.

On May 26, corrections officers attempted to search his cell because they believed he had contraband, and when he resisted, he was again pepper-sprayed and a nurse again noted his uneven breathing. They did not find contraband.

On May 27, Daoust refused to eat four meals and was placed on jail hunger strike protocols. His behavior became bizarre. He exposed his genitals to the staff, requested to speak with President Barrack Obama and shouted broken sentences at the jail staff, the suit said.

He had a meeting with a mental health counselor, but the counselor left and planned to finish the consultation the next day after observing that Daoust “refused to have an adult conversation.”

By 10:30 that night, Daoust was lying naked on the floor of his cell and swore at a corrections officer who commanded him to use his bed.

At some point later that night, Daoust began to experience shortness of breath and an officer — Gerard Bussell, one of four named in the suit — recorded it in his log, noting that he believed Daoust was “trying to make himself hyperventilate.”

Bussell did not contact the jail’s medical or mental health staff, but at midnight he contacted another officer, Libby, and asked him to observe Daoust’s breathing.

Libby also did not enter the cell and did not contact medical or mental health professionals, the suit said.

At 12:13 a.m. May 28, two additional officers — Ducharme and Jacques — were made aware of Daoust’s breathing but took no action. At 12:27 a.m. Bussell again made an entry in his log noting Daoust’s shortness of breath and again stating that he believed Daoust was “trying to make himself hyperventilate.”

The same observations were recorded an additional three times over the next 40 minutes with no action taken by the officers.

At 1:11 a.m. Bussell told Jacques and Ducharme that Daoust was building up saliva in his mouth and reported to other officers that he believed it was an attempt at self-harm.

According to the lawsuit, the buildup of saliva was “a manifestation of the progressing severity of Mr. Daoust’s pulmonary hemorrhage.”

At 1:26 a.m. — almost an hour and a half after officers first noticed Daoust having trouble breathing — Bussell again logged the buildup of saliva and his belief that Daoust was trying to harm himself.

Videos of the cell show Daoust’s arms and legs quivering between 1:05 and 1:34, and his body stops moving after 1:34, according to the suit. At 1:42 a.m. Bussell makes the same observations for a sixth time. Still no medical or mental health was called for.

At 1:48 a.m. he finally contacted a staff sergeant asking for help because he “could not determine inmate Daoust as living, breathing flesh,” the lawsuit said.

The jail does not have any medical or mental health professionals working overnight. An on-call nurse was called at 2 a.m. — two hours after the first observations of Daoust’s difficult breathing.

The nurse told Libby over the phone to follow protocol and check Daoust’s vital signs, to which he told her “it may be more than that,” and she headed to the jail. When she arrived, she found Daoust propped up in a wheelchair, his hands cuffed behind his back and ankles shackled.

On his hand he was wearing a pulse oximeter — a device used to take one’s pulse — but it was not being operated correctly, according to the lawsuit.

The nurse instructed officers to begin CPR at 2:17 a.m.

JAIL POLICIES

The Somerset County Sheriff’s Office contracts its medical and mental health services out through a small Dover-Foxcroft-based company, MedPro Associates, which provides them with medical and mental health services 40 hours a week and 24-hour on-call staffing at other times.

MedPro has worked for the sheriff’s office since 2006. It also began providing medical services to the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office in 2015.

Lancaster said corrections officers are trained in basic first aid, including CPR.

“If a problem arises, they contact the appropriate medical people to address it. If it’s an emergency after hours, we call in EMS,” Lancaster said. “If someone is in medical distress, emergency procedures are activated.”

According to the lawsuit, those procedures were not activated in Daoust’s case. Officers saw Daoust struggling for about two hours, yet no medical or mental health staff members were notified. CPR was not performed until the on-call nurse arrived at the scene and instructed officers to do so.

Shortly after Daoust’s death in 2014, an autopsy was performed on his body to determine the cause of death. Only part of that autopsy was released to the Morning Sentinel, as DeLong cited an “ongoing investigation” as the reason the full autopsy was not released in August 2014. The full autopsy was available for a period of time in the district court’s public documents but has since been sealed.

DeLong also told the newspaper that Daoust was in a segregation unit because he had just been taken into the jail, though according to the lawsuit, Daoust was in segregation because officers knew he might try to hurt himself and that they were instructed to check on him regularly.

According to the lawsuit, the full autopsy indicated that the pulmonary hemorrhage took place “over a matter of minutes or hours, as opposed to being sudden” and that the things the officers had observed — his shortness of breath, building up of saliva and twitching arms and legs — were signs that the pulmonary hemorrhage was taking place.

“Each (corrections officer) knew Mr. Daoust was having trouble breathing and was hyperventilating for a number of hours,” the lawsuit said. “Each knew that Mr. Daoust began to build up substantial amounts of saliva that he appeared to be choking on in order to harm himself. … Despite this knowledge each failed to provide or obtain the necessary emergency medical care Mr. Daoust required. … As a result, Mr.Daoust suffered extreme, extended pain and anguish and eventual death.”

The lawsuit also blames DeLong and the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office for failing to train and supervise the staff properly and for failing to implement policies and practices to respond to an emergency medical situation.

“The negligent, reckless, willful, wanton, malicious and in bad faith conduct of all defendants shocks the conscience, violates the standards of decency in an evolving society and betrays the trust that prisoners and the public place in jail staff,” the lawsuit said.

Lancaster would not comment on whether jail policies have changed since Daoust’s death.

The Franklin County District Attorney’s Office also attempted to recover $6,000 in alleged drug money from Daoust’s estate after his death, even though the district attorney had agreed to drop the charges against him.

Court records show that in January 2015 a settlement agreement was reached in which $2,000 was given to the Wilton Police Department and $4,000 went to Daoust’s estate, and Wilton police were ordered to return a security system they had seized from Daoust.

This story has been corrected to clarify the money amounts related to the lawsuit.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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