JOHNSON COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) — A federal civil rights lawsuit claims actions, or lack thereof, at the Johnson County jail were “intentional and reckless” as it claims a man who was in apparent need of medical attention was not taken to the hospital. Instead, the lawsuit alleges he sat in a jail cell with no adequate medical care for two days.
The lawsuit describes an, “egregious abuse of power and the abuse of basic human dignity to a Latino man who was in desperate need of medical assistance.”
Attorney Christopher Rogers filed the suit on behalf of his clients, Juan Carlos Casanova and his wife Jenny Casanova. The suit names several parties at fault including Johnson County, Sheriff Edward Tester, the Johnson County jail and its health care provider, Quality Correctional Health Care, among other parties.
“They were deliberately indifferent to his state. He was left there to die,” Rogers told News Channel 11 in an exclusive interview.
Juan Carlos Casanova was booked into the Johnson County jail after a crash involving a reported DUI.
Court documents show he was convicted at a bench trial in late May on charges including driving under the influence, driving without a license and open container.
However, the next 48 hours Juan Carlos spent in the jail is what the Casanova family says has forever changed their lives.
“Everyone in that jail for that weekend saw him look like this and they chose to do nothing,” wife Jenny Casanova said, gesturing to a photo she took of her husband upon his release from the Johnson County jail.
Juan Carlos does not speak English, which his attorney says resulted in communication issues with police and jail staff.
The lawsuit reads, “no certified Spanish translators were provided at the scene or while he was incarcerated.”
Jenny says she called the jail several times to check on her husband following the crash and his arrest.
“They assured me he was fine. So I thought, okay maybe scared, but he’s fine. When I first saw him walk out, I was horrified. I didn’t even recognize him. I really didn’t,” Jenny said.
From jail cell to Trauma 1 hospital bed
As soon as he was released from custody, Jenny took her husband straight to the Johnson County Community Hospital in Mountain City. Here, she says, doctors told her Juan Carlos needed emergency surgery and he would have to be transported immediately to the Level 1 Trauma Unit at the Johnson City Medical Center.
“He broke the 4, 5 and 6 vertebrates in his neck and he had a broken arm as well. Number 5 vertebrate was crushed to the point it had wedged his back artery so he was basically bleeding to death from the inside,” Jenny recalled from her conversations with doctors.
“Potentially he could have died if he didn’t have a loving wife that made sure he got out the minute he could and rushed him to the hospital,” said Rogers.
The lawsuit argues Juan Carlos’ civil rights were violated at the jail, reading, “the Sixth Circuit has repeatedly held that a pretrial detainee has a right to adequate medical care when it is obvious that the detainee needs medical attention.”
Rogers told News Channel 11 further, “I would suggest that a broken arm and three broken vertebrae would be pretty obvious that he needs medical attention and he didn’t get it at the jail or it was not adequate.”
Rogers also accuses jail administration of “cruel and unusual punishment” because his client was left sitting in a jail cell, at one point handcuffed with a broken arm.
The lawsuit reads, “medical staff did not transport him to the hospital despite obvious injuries and suffering an immense amount of pain.”
Rogers says the jail’s initial booking photo shows Juan Carlos favoring his broken arm.
“This is the before photo of him. It’s clearly seen he is in a lot of pain,” Rogers said showing the booking photo.
Road to recovery and accountability
After six days spent at Johnson City Medical Center, with three spent in the intensive care unit, Juan Carlos was able to go home. But, his journey was only just beginning.
After eight months of recovery, pending future surgeries, and now life-long physical and emotional repercussions, the Casanovas say they filed their lawsuit to bring awareness so this doesn’t happen again.
Jenny reflected on how critically her husband needed to be in a trauma unit when he was at the hospital, knowing without his transfer to JCMC the outcome could have been very grim.
“He would have died. The doctors at Johnson City explained to me he would have bled to death from the artery or he would have just fell out from the loss of balance.”
Jenny believes Juan Carlos’ race resulted in discrimination.
“I think the color of his skin also his inability to speak English, he wasn’t able to tell them, ‘hey I’m hurt, this bothers me.’ He wasn’t able to tell them that nor did they really even ask him,” Jenny said.
“There is a very small Hispanic population in Mountain City. I didn’t realize how vulnerable they are until now. If this can happen to my husband it can happen to anybody.”
Jenny describes herself as someone who never imagined getting swept up in any kind of lawsuit. However, she says she and her husband could not sit by and wait for this to happen to someone else if the matter got swept under the rug.
“I wouldn’t want anyone to experience this, firsthand. The shock, the anger, the feeling of helplessness,” Jenny said. “My anger is toward everyone involved. At any time they could have stopped and said ‘hey, something is wrong with this man.’ And they didn’t.”
Response from defendants
When News Channel 11 contacted a spokesperson for the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office for comment on the allegations, they responded that no statement will be given since there is pending litigation involved.
We did, however, receive a response from Johnson County officials and the jail’s healthcare provider, Quality Correctional Health Care.
Those responses are provided below in full:
QCHC is pleased to deliver quality inmate health services to patients at the Johnson County Jail. QCHC denies the allegations set forth in the Plaintiff’s complaint and intends to vigorously defend this matter. We reserve specific comment on this matter while it proceeds through the litigation process.Christie Estes, General Counsel and Director of Compliance
Mr. Casanova was convicted at a bench trial of DUI. Judge Stacy Street as the judge. His attorney has since appealed the verdict. No result yet. As for the federal suit, I can not comment on the specifics, as it is currently before the courts. However, I will say that anyone can sue anyone for anything. That does not mean they have a case. We have complete confidence in the sheriff and his department. We are confident that they are innocent of any wrong doing and that Mr. Casanova was treated properly as are all defendants in Johnson County.Perry L. Stout, County Attorney
A motion for new trial
Rogers has officially filed a motion for new trial regarding Juan Carlos Casanova’s multiple convictions, including DUI.
In the motion, he alleges his client was, “greatly prejudiced and deprived of a fundamental right to due process and a fair trial”
Rogers says this is because evidence presented by the state through called witnesses at the bench trial in May 2022 was not provided to him.
The motion reads Mr. Casanova, “is entitled to a new trial as a matter of right because the failure of the Johnson County Sheriff’s office to comply fully with an Order of this Honorable Court, the perjurious statements of both Ms. Williamson and Officer Bradley Sexton, and the non-compliance of the State in making full discovery despite it being requested.”
Rogers added this lawsuit and related actions in court are not about proving “all cops are bad.”
The son of a police officer himself, Rogers says his goal is to make sure this does not happen again.
“There’s a lot of good folks that keep us safe and protect us. I think for the most part, they are good. Are we claiming things have happened as a result of law enforcement? Yes, we are. But we are not saying that is a blanket statement,” said Rogers.