Mary and Russell Pitkin of Portland recall memories of their daughter, Madaline Pitkin, who died nearly two years ago at the Washington County Jail. (Kristyna Wentz-Graff/The Oregonian via AP)

Parents sue for $20 million over daughter's jail death

PORTLAND — The parents of a heroin-addicted woman who died in a county jail after reportedly writing notes asking for medical help filed a $20 million lawsuit Wednesday against the county and the health contractor that had been providing medical services at the jail.

Twenty-six-year-old Madaline Pitkin died in April 2014 at the jail, where she was detoxing after her arrest for heroin possession.

Pitkin's parents on Wednesday announced a wrongful death lawsuit against Corizon Health, Inc. and Washington County, alleging staff failed to act quickly enough as her health declined.

The Oregonian/OregonLive reported in an investigative piece earlier this year that Pitkin was in deteriorating health while in jail and had written four pleas for help before she died.

Corizon Health said it could not comment on pending litigation, and because the case involves medical privacy matters.

The Washington County Sheriff's Department did not respond directly to the county being named in the lawsuit.

But it did issue a statement faulting Corizon and saying that Washington County "will likely" become a plaintiff in legal action against the company.

It said that during the seven days Pitkin was in jail, "deputies repeatedly expressed concern about her condition to Corizon staff."

According to the sheriff's office, Pitkin "was transferred to the jail's medical observation unit" and on the following day, April 24, she collapsed and "jail staff did their very best to revive her." She died that day.

The sheriff's office said that during a review of medical records, the sheriff "was shocked and dismayed to learn of Corizon's apparent lack of response to her written requests for medical help."

An investigation by the county's Major Crimes Team found no criminal wrongdoing, but "it did document several very troubling issues with the care Ms. Pitkin received, " the sheriff's statement said.

The state medical examiner concluded Pitkin had died from "complications of chronic intravenous drug abuse."

On Wednesday, Pitkin's parents appeared at a Portland news conference where the lawsuit was announced.

"I just can't imagine people that are so heartless. Maybe they don't view prisoners as people. I don't know I just can't imagine not helping," said the mother, Mary Pitkin.

The county contracted out with a new medical provider for the jail last year.

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