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Fed. jury awards jailed woman's estate $975,000

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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — A federal jury has awarded $975,000 to the estate of a woman who died in a Pinellas County Jail cell.

The jury made its decision on Friday in the case of Jennifer DeGraw, 50, who was taken into custody after her husband called the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office because she was acting out because she quit taking medicine to control her bipolar disorder.

According to court records, rather than taking DeGraw to a mental health hospital, two deputies used a stun gun on her and she was booked into jail on charges of battery on a law enforcement officer.

Craig Laporte, one of the attorneys for Michael DeGraw, said the law requires that in Baker Act cases, a jail's staff to contact a licensed mental health receiving facility to send someone to examine the inmate. He said that wasn't done in this case and alleges that the jail's administrators were not aware of the law.

After DeGraw was booked into the jail on March 16, 2009, the detention deputies and medical staff failed to properly look after her. She was found unresponsive in the cell eight days later. She died of a heart attack caused by electrolyte imbalance, according to court documents.

A civil complaint alleges that jail staff signed jail records to show they checked on her when video showed they had not.

During her time in jail, three doctors failed to properly examine DeGraw, did not get a medical history from her and didn't make sure that she took her medication, the complaint said.

The lawsuit brought by DeGraw's estate states that during her time at the jail, DeGraw "was in a psychotic state to such a degree that it was or should have been abundantly clear to all involved in her custody and care that she was unable to assist either verbally or physically in her medical or personal care."

According to the lawsuit, DeGraw was incapable of making decisions on what medications to take, or whether to eat or drink, and that "none of her medical, psychiatric or nutritional needs were met under the false justification that she was 'uncooperative.'"