MOUNT CLEMENS (WWJ) - Tired, they say, of being lampooned in the media for allegedly not caring for a man who died in jail, Macomb County officials spoke out Thursday in their own defense.
It was a passionate press conference, WWJ's Laura Bonnell reported, as County Executive Mark Hackel defended the job corrections officers did in the aid of 32-year-old David Stojcevski. Stojevski died of drug withdrawal, his attorney says, 16 days after he was sent to jail last June on a 30-day sentence for failing to pay a careless driving ticket.
His family is suing the country for an undisclosed amount of money for failing to provide him with proper medical care. A video released to WDIV showed hundreds of hours of footage of Stojevski naked, emaciated and twitching, talking to himself, hiding from the jail lights under his bed, and suffering, his attorney says, from acute withdrawal of his prescribed methadone treatment.
Hackel stood alongside Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham and deputies railing at the victim's family's attorney, Robert Ihrie, for sending Hackel a text message urging him to make a deal to settle the case out of court.
"I find out today — not only through a text message, but through the attorneys — that...he'd made it quite clear that if weren't going to find out how to make that settlement, that he was going to go to the media and embarrass the department, with point-zero-two percent of the case," Hackel said.
"I mean, what attorney does that?"
[View a copy of the text message, as provided by Hackel]
A pending federal lawsuit claims Stojcevski suffered serious withdrawals from drug use and died of withdrawal and dehydration. He allegedly lost 50 pounds in jail, and video shows him shaking with seizures in his cell.
Then, with the cameras rolling, he stopped breathing on the floor of his cell, and was later pronounced dead at the hospital. Hackel said during the press conference the deputy who rushed in to perform CPR when he noticed Stojecveski was no longer breathing deserves praise.
Hackel contends that jail officers acted quickly to try to help Stojcevski.
"The correction officer still had the compassion and the care enough to stare at that video monitor and watch that individual," said Hackel. "And as he watched that individual, what he saw was something had stopped. His chest stopped rising."
"Within 30 seconds — time it on a stopwatch — that officer was in that cell providing CPR to that particular individual," Hackel said. "That is compelling, folks, if you think about it. Why do I say that? You can't get that kind of response from an EMS or fire department or police department at your own home, or even in this building right now if somebody was to have a heart attack."
Wickersham, who was named in the lawsuit, said he can't say much due to pending litigation — but Hackel said there were reasons Stojcevski was nude. Sometimes, he said, inmates prefer this and, rather than have a confrontation, jail officers allow it.
Hackel, a former sheriff, added that correctional institutions have become the new asylums for those with mental health and substance abuse problems, and that should be a better system to treat patients who end up behind bars.
In this instance, Hackel said many of the alleged facts of the case have yet to be vetted. For instance, reports of Stojcevski's dramatic weight loss. He also said that a judge did give Stojcevski the opportunity to leave early, but he chose to stay in jail.
In an interview later Thursday with WWJ Newsradio 950, Ihrie stressed that two letters were sent back in 2014 from his office to the sheriff's department, requesting a discussion of the case.
"So, any allegation that I strong-armed anybody here, or didn't give adequate time and notice to sit down and discuss the case certainly is a stretch," Ihrie said.
Ihrie defended his releasing of the video to the media, noting that such footage is public record.
"I'm a big boy," he added. "So I am certainly not worried about anybody calling me names or characterizing my conduct in this case. I certainly will stand by my conduct."
An FBI investigation into the jail and its employees's actions in Stojcevski's case is ongoing.
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