CLEARFIELD – A couple whose daughter died of a drug overdose at the Clearfield County Jail are preparing to file a lawsuit against the jail and the county.
In an interview, Harold and Heather Walstrom, stated they contacted attorney Dylan T. Hastings of Philadelphia to handle their case.
Hastings became their choice to represent them after seeing a piece on the local news about another lawsuit against the county in relation to a death at the jail in October of 2019.
They called him to ask if they had a case and he agreed they did.
“Everyone told us to file a lawsuit,” Heather stated.
Hastings was in town last week with the Walstom’s to attend the monthly Prison Board meeting.
Based on their own investigation, Hastings confirmed they are moving forward with a lawsuit due to “a significant delay” between the time the corrections officer noticed Kaitlyn Renee Evans sleeping in an awkward position and the time aid was rendered to her.
“They knew something wasn’t right and they had an obligation to take action.”
At a previous Prison Board meeting, Harold had told the board members that he and his wife felt that Kaitlyn “was safe” when they heard she was placed in the jail.
During the interview, Harold repeated this thought, adding that they thought this could be a turning point in her life.
“She was going to get state time, get evaluated, get treatment.”
But instead, Heather stated she was treated “like a drug addict and not a human.”
In the time since Kaitlyn’s death in July, “it is amazing what we’ve learned” about the jail, Harold said.
The affidavit in the case against Angela Ricketts of Clearfield, who is accused of bringing the drugs into the jail and is facing drug delivery resulting in death charges, states that a CO saw Kaitlyn sleeping in an odd position but didn’t do anything but asked another CO to check on her when she did her rounds 22 minutes later.
“If they had acted when they first saw her, I think she would be alive,” Harold commented.
Their investigation uncovered more details on what happened that morning, they said, including that two inmates did CPR on her after the second CO tried to wake her up. They claim the COs on duty didn’t know how to do it.
No one used Narcan on her, or a defibrillator, until emergency medical services arrived, they said.
As for how this death is being handled by the jail, Harold said that “actions speak louder than words” and he hasn’t seen any changes.
The warden and commissioners say they did everything for her, but “they didn’t do anything,” Harold said.
Just a few days earlier, two other female inmates overdosed and had to be revived by Narcan. The jail failed to find the drugs in time to prevent Kaitlyn from also overdosing.
“There were a lot of failures,” Hastings said.
The couple isn’t particularly interested in a financial settlement but want to ensure that changes are made at the jail.
“We don’t want another family to go through what we’ve gone through,” Harold stated.
“We want lasting change,” Heather added.
Hastings went on to say they want more than just “lip service” and are waiting to see what steps the county is actually taking to “keep those in your jail safe.”
At a previous Prison Board meeting, Harold mentioned contacting the Attorney General’s office about a possible investigation at the jail.
They told him any investigation would have to be done by the county district attorney. In Clearfield County, the DA is on the county Prison Board.
Hastings said he hasn’t seen any intent to do such an investigation of the facility, which is not reporting extraordinary occurrences.
He noted that in the previous lawsuit, there was no extraordinary occurrence report on that inmate death.
“This is a complete failure from an administrative standpoint.”
The Department of Corrections report for the Clearfield County Jail on the state DOC Web site in 2019 does not list any deaths.
Hastings commented that lack of training is the cause of the problems with most employees learning while on the job. The position is advertised as only requiring a high school diploma and pays only $15.20/hour.
He pointed out that just in the last Prison Board meeting, one employee was hired and terminated shortly after that.
This is a state-wide problem and the facilities are “failing all the people going in there. It is their duty to ensure the safety of those individuals under their care, but safety is not their primary concern,” Hastings said.
The drug epidemic has made things worse and there is a either a “lack of effort” in finding drugs brought into the jail or the inmates are good at concealing it.
“Half of my cases involve jails and drug problems,” he said.
Hastings said proper training will be a long-term investment, which will pay dividends down the line as it prevents both deaths and lawsuits.
Jails should be focused on rehabilitation, he said, so they do not have “repeat customers.”
“We have seen people rehabilitated from drugs and turn addiction into something positive,” Harold said. But that doesn’t happen for everyone as drug abuse is very difficult to overcome.
“They are battling demons,” Harold said.
In the previous case, Hastings handled against the county, he said it took about two years to get a settlement of $2.5 million.
This took a lot of negotiating before they tried mediation, which came to the resolution.
According to that lawsuit filed by Trina A. Corson, the victim’s mother, a probation officer visited Kristen E. Corson at her home and asked for a routine urine test around 10:30 a.m. on Oct. 10, 2019.
When she told him she wasn’t feeling well and couldn’t produce a sample, he placed her under arrest for violating the terms of her probation and she was taken to the jail.
The suit claims the probation officer was aware of her “serious medical need” but did not inform corrections officers at the jail about it.
She continued to suffer because personnel at the jail were not “properly addressing her serious medial need,” it says in the lawsuit.
She was found unresponsive in her cell at 2 a.m. on Oct. 11, 2019 and later died at the hospital. Her cause of death was determined to be pneumonia, according to the documents.
Another case filed by Hastings for the death of Michael Duffalo on March 10, 2019, was dismissed in October of 2021.
It was claimed in that case that Duffalo, who was in the jail on an outstanding bench warrant, was suffering a mental breakdown and drug withdrawal symptoms.
He was given a screening by a mental health employee who diagnosed him with major depressive disorder, but he was not deemed a suicide risk.
Duffalo hung himself with a bed sheet a few days later.
Hastings said Duffalo’s case, because it was suicide, was harder to prove.
“It was a very sad case,” Hastings noted, adding “no one should die in jail.”
Although the last few months have been traumatic for the Walstrom’s, there is a positive side.
“We lost faith in the system (after her death),” Harold said, but the response from the public has “redeemed our faith in humanity” as they were comforted and supported by people who did not know her or us, he said.
A preliminary hearing in the Ricketts case in which she is charged with drug delivery resulting in death, involuntary manslaughter: three felony counts each of contraband, possession of a controlled substance-contraband, manufacture/delivery/possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance, and intentional possession of a controlled substance, as well as three misdemeanor counts of recklessly endangering another person and possession of drug paraphernalia, is scheduled for Wednesday morning at the jail.