A woman has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Richmond Sheriff C. T. Woody and several jail employees following the death two years ago of an inmate.
The lawsuit, filed Sept. 13 in Richmond Circuit Court, charges that jail personnel knew Peter John Dellova was a diabetic who took medication for chronic pancreatitis and congestive heart failure — yet ignored his repeated requests for medical assistance.
Dellova, 45, was arrested on an outstanding warrant Sept. 15, 2010, and taken to jail. Earlier that day he was released from Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center after being hospitalized for a week.
Dellova was convicted of two misdemeanors — driving on a suspended license and failure to appear — and sentenced to serve 15 days in jail. Jail physician Gregory Pleasants noted Dellova's health history and ordered medication for him, the suit says. But Dellova wasn't given his medication or placed on the jail's medical tier, which allows inmates daily access to medical staff. Instead, the suit says, he was placed on the J tier, where inmates who haven't yet been classified are held.
Shortly after 8 a.m. on Sept. 17, 2010, a deputy found Dellova "in medical distress," the suit says, saying he had "chest complaints and feelings of low blood sugar." The deputy radioed the jail's medical department, the suit says, but no one came to look at Dellova. Instead of calling the rescue squad, as jail protocol stated, a sergeant told the deputy to have Dellova lie down and drink water, the suit says.
Just after 11 a.m., Dellova again told the deputy his blood sugar was dropping. His name was added to the "sick call" list, so the jail nurse would assess him that day. The nurse's report says she began making her rounds when the inmates returned from lunch around 12:30, but paused because "[her] lunch had arrived," the suit says.
At 1:33 p.m., other inmates told the deputy that Dellova was having a seizure. Finding Dellova unconscious, the deputy called for assistance; jail staff arrived at 1:40 p.m. and began administering CPR and an automated external defibrillator. Paramedics took Dellova to the hospital at 2:18 p.m. There he was pronounced dead at 2:45 p.m. Dellova's cause of death was found to be congestive heart failure.
The Richmond City Jail's inmate death rate was 2.5 times higher than the average death rate at similar jails across the country from 2000 through 2007, the Times-Dispatch reported in July.
Other wrongful-death suits have been filed in recent years against Woody and the jail. In September 2011, a jury returned a $2.4 million verdict against Woody and the jail's former chief physician in a lawsuit involving an inmate who died of pneumonia.
Barbra Jane Caputo, the executor of Dellova's estate, asks for $4.5 million in compensatory damages and $350,000 in punitive damages. The sheriff's office doesn't typically comment on pending litigation, says Maj. Jerry Baldwin, its spokesman.