Arkansas detainee died of starvation and neglect, lawsuit claims

Larry Price was detained at the Sebastian County jail for a year.

January 18, 2023, 10:52 PM

The Sebastian County jail in Arkansas is facing a lawsuit that accuses officials of letting a detainee die of starvation and neglect while in their care.

According to the complaint, Larry Price Jr., 51, was found by guards lying in a pool of his own urine and contaminated water, unresponsive in August 2021 after having been detained for more than a year. His once 6-foot-2-inch, 185-pound frame emaciated down to 121 pounds, according to the Arkansas State Crime Lab.

Price died of acute dehydration and malnutrition, according to the Arkansas State Crime Lab.

PHOTO: Larry Price
Larry Price
Courtesy Rodney Price

According to Sebastian County, Price was pronounced dead on August 29, 2021, at approximately 1:35 A.M. In wellness-check documents obtained by ABC News, after Price had died, prison staff marked his log 10 different times with the same seven words, "Well-Being Check Inmate and Cell OK."

Attorney Hank Balson, who is representing the Price estate in a lawsuit against Sebastian County that was filed Friday, said Price's death was a failure on nearly every level of the judicial process, starting from his detainment to his death.

"This is a jail. Its primary purpose is not to be a mental health facility," Balson told ABC News. "And, yet, once the government takes somebody into custody, they are required to provide them with the basic necessities of life, food, water, and necessary medical care and mental health care to protect them from harm, to prevent them from deteriorating."

PHOTO: Larry Price, left, with brother Rodney Price.
Larry Price, left, with brother Rodney Price.
Courtesy Rodney Price

Price was arrested in Fort Smith, Arkansas, after entering a police department on August 19, 2020, and verbally threatening officers while using his empty hand to resemble a gun, according to the lawsuit.

Price was often homeless, suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, hallucinations, and "a developmental disability that significantly impaired his intellectual and adaptive functioning," according to his lawyers.

The officers were familiar with Price because he would often enter the police department and act out erratically and he seemed more agitated this time, the lawsuit states. According to the lawsuit, after officers couldn't calm him down, they arrested him and charged him with terroristic threatening in the first degree.

Price was detained and placed almost immediately in solitary confinement because of his mental state and deteriorated quickly, the lawsuit states.

Price's family's said it was difficult to get access to him since the COVID-19 pandemic blocked visitations at the jail. His brother, Rodney Price, lived in California and said the jail wouldn't help to facilitate communication between the siblings.

PHOTO: Larry Price
Larry Price
Courtesy Rodney Price

"I feel like the Sebastian County jail, and every employee that had contact with him, failed my brother," Rodney Price said in a statement through Balson. "All it would have taken was one person to sound off. If one person stepped up to the plate, I feel like my brother would be alive today."

"The autopsy said the inmate died with COVID. All of us want to know more about what other factors may have led to his tragic death. That's why we're continuing to look into what happened," Hobe Runion, Sheriff of Sebastian County, said in a video statement he sent to ABC News. "I would ask everyone to withhold judgment until our internal review in the court case is complete."

ABC News acquired the autopsy report. Even though it stated Price was positive for COVID-19 when he died, the cause of death was listed as "Acute Dehydration and Malnutrition."

"The county places a high priority on the safety of every person in our jail. We have medical personnel available to treat inmates in need of care," Sebastian County Judge Steve Hotz said in the email. "The sheriff is conducting an internal review of this situation and hope to know more in the future."

Turn Key Health Clinics, an independent contractor hired by Sebastian County to care for patients in the jail, and two of its employees were also named as defendants in the lawsuit. A lawyer representing Turn Key Health told ABC News that Turn Key was not contracted by Sebastian County jails to provide mental health evaluations when Price was in custody.

"Sebastian County initially contracted with Turn Key to provide eight hours a week of case management and service as a clinical liaison between Turn Key's psychiatrist and the local community health providers," Turn Key said in a statement to ABC News through its lawyer. "Effective January 1, 2020, Sebastian County amended its contract with Turn Key to eliminate the clinical liaison position, and all crisis management and mental health evaluations/assessments were to be contracted by Sebastian County and performed by an independent community mental health provider, not by Turn Key."