Lawsuit claims deputies ignored dying inmate’s pleas

Family members of an inmate who died of a ruptured ulcer in East Baton Rouge Parish Prison last year have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Sheriff Sid Gautreaux, claiming deputies ignored his declining health and pleas for medical attention.

Daniel Christian Melton, 40, of Denham Springs, had complained of stomach pain in the hours before he was found dead in his cell Nov. 3, according to Sheriff’s Office records. Melton, who was awaiting trial on weapon and drug charges, told a fellow inmate he felt like his stomach “was going to explode.”

“When they found him he had rigor mortis, and the least amount of time that takes to set in is three hours,” said Vincent J. DeSalvo, the Baton Rouge attorney who represents Melton’s family. “They ignored him and they didn’t get him to a hospital in time.”

A spokeswoman for Gautreaux said sheriff’s officials had not seen the lawsuit and declined to comment.

The lawsuit, filed June 21 in 19th Judicial District Court, claims Melton had made several complaints to deputies about his deteriorating condition. His symptoms included stomach pain, insomnia, acid reflux and protracted vomiting, the lawsuit alleges.

“Protracted vomiting over a 48-hour period of time is a very serious health issue,” the lawsuit states. “No vital signs were taken by (Gautreaux’s) employees during this 48-hour period.”

Melton had told one deputy he felt like he was going to die, and he filled out — though did not submit — three medical request forms in the days leading up to his death, records show.

Officials with East Baton Rouge Parish Emergency Medical Services, which treats parish inmates, have refused to release details of Melton’s treatment, citing confidentiality laws.

A jail log shows Melton reported stomach pain the day before his death. He also refused his hall time, but the reason was not documented.

An autopsy showed Melton died from a perforated peptic ulcer, a tear in the stomach lining that allows gastric juices to leach into the abdominal cavity. While the condition is serious, it is not imminently fatal and can be corrected if treated in time, East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner Dr. Beau Clark has said.

It’s not clear when Melton developed the ulcer, but his wife has said he had a problem with “taking pills.”

Melton, a U.S. Navy veteran known as “Chris,” was booked on Oct. 11 with resisting arrest, violation of a firearm-free zone, possession of Schedule II drugs, possession of a firearm with a controlled dangerous substance and illegal carrying of a weapon.

He had been caught, according to court filings, at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center carrying a knife, handgun and a bottle of dextroamphetamine, his son’s medication for attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder.

The lawsuit also claims Melton was assaulted the day of his arrest and diagnosed with facial fractures after being taken to the hospital. DeSalvo, however, said he is not claiming those injuries had any connection to Melton’s death.

“We’re not alleging that they beat him to death,” DeSalvo said, “but it shows the callous disregard they had for his health.”