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The company that manages the Bi-State jail denies any wrongdoing in responses filed last week to a civil lawsuit concerning the July 2016 death of a 20-year-old diabetic.

Morgan Angerbauer
Photo by Submitted photo

Morgan Angerbauer was taken into custody June 28 for administrative violations of a Miller County, Ark., drug-related probation. She died in the early hours on July 1 of diabetic ketoacidosis, a condition stemming from extremely high blood sugar. Licensed vocational nurse Brittany Johnson is facing a misdemeanor charge of negligent homicide in Miller County for allegedly refusing to check Angerbauer's sugar level the night before she died.

Last week, LaSalle Corrections filed responses to the complaint on behalf of the corporation, executives, administrators and Johnson's supervisor denying any wrongdoing. LaSalle's responses do not represent Johnson, who has not filed an answer to the complaint filed on behalf of Angerbauer's estate last year.

A motion to dismiss filed Jan. 12 on LaSalle's behalf by Texarkana lawyer Paul Miller of Miller, James, Miller and Hornsby, alleges the complaint fails to provide specific facts demonstrating the defendants are liable for federal rights violations, medical negligence or wrongful death as alleged in the complaint.

The motion to dismiss argues the claims set forth in the complaint are "legally conclusory and fail to state a claim." The motion argues as well that Robert Page, warden of the Bi-State, and Registered Nurse Regina Lynch, Johnson's supervisor, are protected from suit by official immunity under Texas law.

Miller filed an answer to the complaint for the court to consider if the motion to dismiss is denied. The answer argues that the defendants are protected from suit based on various theories of immunity and alleges Angerbauer's own conduct led to her death. The answer argues that Angerbauer used methamphetamine and that her diabetes complicated her withdrawal from the drug. The defendants allege that Angerbauer refused to provide jail staff with information necessary to determine what medical care she needed. The answer blames Angerbauer for allegedly refusing to eat and for allegedly refusing to attend a court hearing the day before her death.

In conflict with the defendants' assertions are arguments from Little Rock lawyer Matt Campbell, who filed the complaint on behalf of Angerbauer's mother, Jennifer Houser, as administrator of Angerbauer's estate. The complaint alleges that repeatedly high blood sugar readings acquired from Angerbauer at the jail should have led medical personnel to take her to an emergency room for treatment unavailable in a jail setting.

Angerbauer allegedly banged on her cell door for hours the night of June 30 and into the early hours of July 1. Angerbauer allegedly asked Johnson to check her sugar around 5:15 p.m. June 30 but Johnson allegedly refused, telling Angerbauer that staff, not detainees, decide when medical attention occurs.

The complaint alleges that jail trustees noticed Angerbauer unconscious on the floor of her cell, a medical observation space just feet from the nurse's station, at about 4 a.m. July 1. Johnson was unable to obtain a numerical reading using blood sugar testing equipment and misinterpreted a reading as an error rather than as indicative of a dangerously high sugar level, according to the complaint and other court documents used to create the following account.

Johnson administered glucose, or pure sugar, as Angerbauer allegedly slipped deeper in unconsciousness. A medical examiner's report puts Angerbauer's sugar level at 813. A normal blood sugar range spans 70 to 110.

Prosecutors in Miller County have charged Johnson, who has not responded to the civil complaint, with misdemeanor negligent homicide. Johnson has entered a plea of not guilty to the charge and is scheduled to appear in court in February for a pretrial hearing.

The civil suit is pending in the Texarkana Division of Eastern District of Texas federal court before U.S. District Judge Robert Schroeder. The complaint accuses LaSalle of repeatedly putting profits over the medical needs of inmates and points to other deaths in LaSalle-run jails. No hearings are currently scheduled in the civil case.

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