YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – In October of 2019, 33-year-old James Kennedy was booked into the Mahoning County Jail on a parole violation. Less than a year later, James would be found unresponsive in his cell. Shortly after, he passed away.
Now, his mother has filed a wrongful death lawsuit claiming that it was the medical negligence at the jail that caused her son’s death.
“I knew at that point he wasn’t going to come home, that he was really, really sick,” she said.
Linda Fekety recalled the moments leading up to her son’s death, saying it was the other inmates that helped him the most when he was having seizures and became ill.
“Different inmates said that they have pulled the call button. That James was using the restroom and blood was coming out, and he told them he’s gonna die… He said James had many seizures and they would help him. Different inmates would help him and get him into his room,” Fekety said.
On August 26, 2020, James was found in his cell unresponsive. He was taken to St. Elizabeth Hospital, but Fekety said she was never contacted by the jail, despite being listed as his emergency contact. She actually found out through a friend.
“She called me on Facebook and said someone called her and said get ahold of James’ mom, it’s bad, he was found unresponsive in his cell,” she said.
From there, Fekety rushed to the hospital. But, because James was still an inmate, the hospital could not give her any information.
“‘It’s a HIPPA violation, we’re not supposed to tell you anything, and you need to leave…’ I called the jail at 2:58, and I don’t know who the deputy was that I spoke to. But, I cried and pleaded with him to please tell me if my son was alive. That’s all I wanted to know,” she said.
Eventually, Fekety would find out that her son was alive but nothing more. Then, after a week of still no answers, the family heard from James’ lawyer.
“They say that he’s out on an OR bond, he is in intensive care, and is currently in renal failure, is paralyzed and on a ventilator,” she said.
Fekety would never see her son awake again.
Still, she was finally able to visit James in the hospital.
“I said you know, ‘mom’s here. Squeeze my hand if you know that I’m here,’ and he squeezed it really, really hard,” she said.
James passed away on September 27, 2020. His official cause of death listed on his death certificate was acute pancreatitis that was onset weeks prior to his death. It was also ruled that he suffered from sepsis and pneumonia.
James left behind a son and two daughters.
Wrongful death lawsuit
In September of 2022, Fekety filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Mahoning County Jail, the jail’s medical service, Wellpath, as well as six medical caregivers who worked at the jail at the time.
In the lawsuit, Fekety claims that “as Kennedy’s condition worsened while he was an inmate at the jail, the progress of his disease was overtly apparent from Kennedy’s overall appearance and complaints that Kennedy voiced to the jail staff and jail medical staff.
It also claims, “As Kennedy’s condition deteriorated, other inmates commented to corrections officers and other members of the jail staff and the jail medical staff that something was seriously wrong with Kennedy.”
The complaint states that had the jail and medical personnel paid “minimal attention” to Kennedy, it would have been clear he was ill and in need of treatment.
Fekety claims the jail staff did not provide necessary medical attention to James.
The complaint states that, “By the time Kennedy arrived at the hospital, his pancreatitis had become so advanced that there was little chance that Kennedy would survive.”
It goes on to state, “Kennedy’s death was a direct and proximate result of the policies, practices, and customs of deliberate indifference to the welfare and medical needs of seriously ill inmates.”
Fekety is suing for no less than $150,000 in economic damages, no less than $250,000 in compensatory damages and no less than $500,000 in punitive damages.
However, Fekety says the biggest reason for the lawsuit is to bring justice to her son and that she will never stop fighting for him.
The jail’s response
A response filed by the defendants in the case (Wellpath, Mahoning County and Deputy Jacob Hocevar), denies any allegation that the defendants neglected to provide medical care to James.
It also denies that the staff and jail did not attend to James and states they provided him with adequate medical care.
The response states, “The answering Defendants acted in good faith and in accordance with the law.”
It goes on to state that James’ alleged injuries, “were created, or exacerbated, in whole or in part, by Plaintiff’s or the decedent’s own actions and/or inactions.” But, it does not go on to further explain those claims.
In November, the jail and Deputy Hocevar filed a motion for the lawsuit to be dismissed. That motion has not yet been ruled on.
First News reached out to Mahoning County Sheriff Jerry Greene for additional comment, but he did not wish to comment further at this time.