A security gate at the Cherokee County detention center, in Murphy, N.C. Frank Taylor / Wmforo
A security gate at the Cherokee County Detention Center, in Murphy. Frank Taylor / Wmforo

Cherokee County’s insurer will pay $1.8 million in a settlement with the 4-year-old daughter of a jail inmate who died in Cherokee County three years ago, pending a federal judge's approval.

The parties agreed to the settlement in September and filed details about the amounts in federal court last week.

Sheriff’s officers reported finding Joshua Shane Long, 31, near the North Carolina-Tennessee border, shirtless and screaming, following calls to 911 about a man acting erratically. Just before his arrest, officers thought they saw Long swallow something from a breath mint tin, according to several statements to the news media by Cherokee County Sheriff Derrick Palmer.

Officers reported finding Long lying on the floor of his cell nearly six hours later. An autopsy report released months after Long’s death said he died of acute methamphetamine toxicity.

He “suffered a terrifying, preventable and totally unnecessary death” because Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office workers failed to help the clearly intoxicated man until he collapsed to the floor without a pulse, said attorneys Ellis Boyle and Winslow Taylor in a lawsuit filed in federal court last year.

Workers at the jail failed to react to his ingestion of an unknown substance, failed to screen him for medical problems and failed to send him for emergency treatment when he showed signs of drug-related medical issues, the settlement agreement reads.

As part of the settlement agreement, Cherokee County does not admit fault, which is common in settlement agreements.

Boyle, who viewed video from the jail the night Long died, described officers who made their rounds through the jail to observe inmates. As officers make rounds, they are supposed to look into cells. To document they’ve been on a round, jail workers touch a wand to a sensor.

“Several, if not most of the rounds were complete drive-bys,” Boyle said Monday. “Walking by and tapping the sensor without pretending to look inside.”

A reflection on the cell door’s glass prevented easy viewing of anyone inside, Boyle said.

Possibly 30 minutes before Long collapsed, he slipped a piece of paper beneath the cell door. “Detention center defendants were aware of the note, but to date, no one knows what the note contained, has viewed it or was able to produce it,” the settlement agreement says.

One worker on his rounds cupped his hands around his baseball cap to shield the light to see inside. There, he saw Long splayed on the floor and called for help. A deputy called an ambulance about 11:15 p.m.; it arrived five minutes later.

Shortly afterward, jail workers called the magistrate to try to get Long’s bond unsecured, which means he would be released on his own recognizance, perhaps under the mistaken idea that the county would then not have to pay for Long’s medical care. The magistrate refused.

About 30 minutes later, an assistant district attorney approved the unsecured bond. Only after that, at 12:40 a.m. was the medevac helicopter allowed to fly to Tennessee. Once the flight arrived at the hospital in Tennessee, Long was pronounced dead at 1:21 a.m.

Long’s child will receive monthly payments through the year 2080, according to the settlement agreement.

Wmforo asked Palmer whether procedures at the jail have changed since Long’s death. Palmer did not respond in time for publication.

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Kate Martin was formerly lead investigative reporter for Wmforo. To contact our news team send an email to [email protected].