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Family files lawsuit against Columbia County Sheriff’s Office after inmate dies in custody

COLUMBIA COUNTY, Ga. — Action News Jax is digging into the death of a man in the Lake City jail and his family says was entirely preventable. It’s now the subject of a lawsuit making major claims against the Columbia County Sheriff’s Department.

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Ultimately, Sheriff Mark Hunter oversees the Columbia County Correctional Facility. The lawsuit claims that the policies he instituted and the ways he runs them are directly related to Joshua Bell Farmer’s death.

Patty Gaines is Bell Farmer’s mother. Joshua was her oldest and she says, “he was the sunshine of any rainy day or without the rain. He was just sunshine. Always smiling.

Gaines lost him while he was on pretrial detention at the Columbia County Corrections Facility in Lake City. “He had a life-threatening seizure disorder,” Gaines says, and “he knew all about the seizure. He knew all about his medicine.”

Without it, she says, he’d die. But the lawsuit she’s filed says the sheriff and others were “indifferent to Bell Farmer’s medical needs” while in custody, leading to his “wrongful death.”

“He was just good all around,” she says “Like any other child, he had things like, what I do, make mistakes. Everybody makes them. Nobody’s perfect. I’m not perfect, but he didn’t deserve this.”

The suit claims the sheriff has policies in place, “preventing inmates from receiving prescription medications” and that the fees to fill them were “sufficiently large to deter inmates from receiving prescription medications provided by the Columbia County Detention Facility,” while at the same time, failing to have a policy allowing them to get the meds from home.

Gaines says her son started having seizures in 2017 and “he was on, you know, different medications for his seizures…he cannot go a day without that medication.”

Except, she says, he went two months without it.

After being charged “twice in 5 days for the same meds,” jail medical requests say he opted to have family bring them instead. But the suit says they were repeatedly told “outside medications could not be accepted and assured the family members that bell farmer was receiving his anti-seizure medications.”

Except, as the case states, “this was not true.”

“That threw me,” Gaines says, “It totally just threw me for a loop. Because I trusted in the sheriff, I trusted in the jail system.”

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After two months on medication, his family tried again. An inmate request form shows Joshua asked for medicine, recognizing the “signs of my seizures.”

Gaines tried to bring his medication to the jail but says she was denied and turned away. The very next day, he died from a seizure that medication could have prevented.

And that, she says, “is a total disregard for human life to me.”

After the seizures, she says, he still could have been saved if only a nurse had been on staff or they’d called for an ambulance. But the suit claims, “Sheriff Hunter had a policy or custom of having no medical staff on duty...outside of normal business hours,” and the seizures happened on a weekend.

And rather than call an ambulance, though he “was too weak to stand or walk... guards placed him in a wheelchair and wheeled him to an observation cell.” Because the sheriff also had a “policy or custom of not calling for an ambulance when an inmate suffers seizures.”

Minutes later, a jail video shows Joshua Bell Farmer dying on the floor of that observation cell.

“That was done very, very poorly,” Gaines says, tearfully, “they treated him very bad. He didn’t- animal doesn’t- deserve to suffer and die like my son did out there.”

She’s suing for damages, medical and funeral expenses, and for change. She wants the policies amended so it doesn’t happen to anyone else.

“They need to have nurses out there,” she says, “sick people go to jail every day, and no other mother or father needs to go through what I went through or what I’m going through or what we are going through.”

Action News Jax reached out to the Columbia County Sheriff’s Department. it declined to comment on pending litigation.

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