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Madison County agrees to pay $3M settlement to family of woman who died at county jail

The Madison County Administration Building on Thursday, April 6, 2023, in Edwardsville.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
The Madison County Administration Building in Edwardsville on April 6.

Editor's note: This story was originally published in the Belleville News-Democrat.

The mother of a 28-year-old Glen Carbon woman who died in the Madison County Jail while experiencing opioid withdrawal has tentatively reached a $3 million agreement to settle her wrongful death lawsuit against the county in federal court.

Rana Schmidt sued the county, former sheriff John Lakin and jail personnel following her daughter Elissa A. Lindhorst’s Feb. 24, 2020, death.

The Madison County Board authorized the settlement at its last meeting March 29.

County Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler said Monday the agreement had not yet been finalized or signed. He declined to comment further until then.

Madison County’s excess insurance carrier plans to contribute $1.4 million to the settlement, according to a county board resolution related to the settlement. The rest of the money will come from the county’s tort fund budget.

In the lawsuit, Schmidt accused jail officers of failing to provide the medical care her daughter asked for after she told them she was going through opioid withdrawal.

For nearly five days, Lindhorst vomited and was unable to eat or drink, according to the lawsuit. It states she was severely dehydrated and had vomit in her lungs, which caused pneumonia and an irregular heartbeat, leading to her death.

She was in custody on a $15,000 bond for a possession of a controlled substance charge.

Two women who were detained in the jail at the same time as Lindhorst also asked correctional officers to help her, according to the lawsuit, which cites a handwritten note from the women as evidence. A photograph of the note was included in the court record.

“She has not kept any fluid down puking green stomach Bile and acid,” the note reads. “She has not urinated since she has been on our block or ate said its been a week since shes ate. She cannot hold herself up even without collapsing she filled out a nurse slip days ago has withdraw meds.

“We have changed her clothes 3 times with our own stuff as well as blankets which need replaced again. She is not getting better and needs medical attention. Shes dehydrated and says her back is killing her which is probably her kidneys shutting down. She probably weighs 90 lbs wet please help her.”

Schmidt accused a correctional officer of throwing the note in the garbage.

Illinois State Police conducted an investigation into Lindhorst’s death in 2020. The agency declined to provide information about the findings of that investigation on Monday and asked that the Belleville News-Democrat file a public records request.

The county, former sheriff and jail personnel denied all of Schmidt’s allegations in their response to the lawsuit in court.

The lawsuit was originally filed in 2021. Lakin retired last year.

As part of the settlement, jail officers will be required to undergo training on drug withdrawal.

Schmidt’s attorneys did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the BND. They issued a statement on behalf of the family to the Alton Telegraph after the county board voted on the resolution authorizing the settlement:

“While this settlement does not erase the pain of that horrific day, it does begin the necessary work needed to help prevent another needless death. Elissa deserved better than what happened to her on Feb 24th 2020. No one deserves to die the way Elissa did. Elissa had a family who loved her for 28 years of her life, and her life mattered.

“This resolution keeps our family from reliving the tragedy in a courtroom for years to come and allows us to focus on furthering our shared mission of educating and training jail security, guards, and support staff about the crucial medical needs of individuals in their custody. That is the real work that honors Elissa.

“As a society, we need to focus on helping those who struggle instead of casting them aside only to get lost in the system. Elissa will always be with us in our hearts and never forgotten, and now we can truly begin to heal. Thank you to everyone who has supported Elissa, and our family, during this incredibly difficult time.”

Lindhorst had long struggled with addiction before her death, the federal lawsuit states.

She loved animals, according to her obituary. Lindhorst’s dog Peanut was named along with sisters and her mother as her surviving family members. One place the family asked that people make memorials for Lindhorst was the Metro East Humane Society.

Lexi Cortes is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

Lexi Cortes is an investigative reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.