BOISE, Idaho — When Lance Quick was pulled over in eastern Idaho last December, the law enforcement officer thought he was intoxicated - not necessarily drunk, but perhaps on some kind of drugs.
The 40-year-old home inspector was arrested, charged with a misdemeanor and taken to the Bannock County Jail for processing. He was dead six days later of starvation and dehydration.
Quick's relatives say he wasn't on drugs when he was arrested, but was actually in the grip of a manic episode. Like roughly 5.7 million other Americans, Quick had bipolar disorder, a common but serious mental illness that causes periods of depression and periods of manic behavior and can sometimes turn into psychotic episodes.
Quick's parents, Kim and Shauna Quick, filed a tort claim on Tuesday, officially giving county officials notice that they intend to sue. They say Sheriff Lorin Nielsen and other jail staffers knew that Quick was so gravely ill that he didn't even appear to know what to do with food and water, and that they failed to take him to treat his condition or take him to the hospital despite knowing that Quick hadn't eaten or drank water for several days.
Their attorney, Karra Porter of Salt Lake City, said the sheriff's office didn't provide Quick with his prescription medication used to treat his illness, didn't provide him with other medical care and didn't take him to the hospital because officials didn't want to send a deputy along with him to the emergency room, as the hospital required.
"It was Sheriff's Nielsen's view, which he had expressed publicly and within the jail, that jailers should not have to transport medically ill inmates to receive medical treatment," the family wrote in the tort claim. "Because the hospital stated that it would require law enforcement presence if Lance were brought there for medical treatment, the jail refused to transport him, and — literally — just left him in the cell to die."
Nielsen said in a phone interview Tuesday that he hadn't yet seen the tort claim, but said jail staffers had taken steps to get Quick help, including calling in a designated examiner from the state Department of Health and Welfare and bringing nurses to see Quick. Nielsen laid the blame on state government, noting that state law prohibits using jails to house mentally ill patients though mentally ill people are routinely incarcerated. He said jails aren't equipped to deal with people with mental illness, and that there are more people in jails on "mental holds" than there are beds in state mental health facilities.
"Obviously we have a major problem in the state with mental health ... it just took way too long, in my opinion, for the state to respond to take care of this," Nielsen said. "It seems like we always need an accident in the middle of an intersection before we get a traffic light. And here, we have a death. The system is broke."
According to the tort claim, Quick told the arresting officer that he was bipolar and needed his prescription medications. A friend of Quick's who was a nurse also contacted jail staffers multiple times to inform them of Quick's diagnosis and the medications he needed.
Quick's father served as the Bannock County coroner at the time. On Dec. 11 he called the sheriff to tell him about his son's illness, his medications and urged him to get Lance to a hospital for treatment, according to the claim.
Meanwhile, Quick's condition continued to deteriorate as he went through withdrawals from the medications. He was arrested on a Saturday, but by Monday was too incoherent to be arraigned, according to the tort claim. Without an arraignment, a judge couldn't set bond, which meant his friends couldn't post bail to get him out of the jail and to a hospital.
Four days after his arrest, Quick had declined further. No longer just acting strangely — he'd previously rubbed food on his body rather than eating it, and frequently talked and gestured to himself — he was now completely removed from reality, according to the tort claim. His cell had neither a toilet nor a sink, and Quick was filthy, covered in bruises and growing weaker and slower. Jail staffers wrote in logs that they continued to offer him food and water, but Quick "could not understand the concept at this point," according to the tort claim.
At some point over the next several hours, staffers began noting in their logs whether Quick was still breathing when they checked on him. On the morning of Dec. 14, he wasn't. Quick was finally taken to the hospital and pronounced dead, according to the claim.
"He was forced to endure a slow death as he spent days trapped, naked, alone, in a state of confusion, frustration and pain, betrayed by those charged with constitutional and statutory duties to protect him," the family said.
They are seeking at least $110,000 in damages, in addition to compensation for non-economic harm.