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Tort filed against county, sheriff's office in 2017 jail death

Conduct alleged 'grossly negligent, outrageous, wanton...'

court news

court news

— The parents of a Grangeville man, Justin R. Ross, who died while in custody in the Idaho County jail last year, have filed a tort claim against the Cottonwood Police Department (CPD), Idaho County and the Idaho County Sheriff’s Office (ICSO) alleging actions of negligence that resulted in his death.


Justin R. Ross

Filed April 4 by Ross’ parents, Dennis “Joe” Ross of Keuterville and Polly Mozingo of Grangeville, the four-page tort claim alleges the failures of ICSO and CPD employees, “constitute an unlawful action done with deliberate indifference to Justin Ross’ rights,” and that conduct of said employees was “…grossly negligent, outrageous, wanton, reckless, willful, and with malicious intent.”

According to Free Press news coverage, Ross, 21, was pronounced deceased at Syringa Hospital on Dec. 14, 2017. Earlier that evening, Ross was booked into the jail on an Idaho County warrant for fail to pay on trespassing to hunt without permission.

An ICSO incident release stated Ross admitted to being under the influence of an intoxicant and he was having difficulty with his balance and speech, and he was placed in the maximum-security cell and jail staff began 15-minute safety checks. At approximately 10:30 p.m., jail staff observed Ross did not appear to be breathing, and they entered the cell and began CPR. Syringa Ambulance transported Ross to the hospital where he was subsequently died.

The tort alleges ICSO employees failed to take Ross to the hospital after a CPD officer informed a deputy Ross had ingested a high quantity of prescription medication – 30 tramadol – and instead took him to jail; that cell checks were missed on Ross; that they failed to call an ambulance when Ross began showing signs of a medical emergency; and that employees were unable to operate the oxygen mask and tank in a reasonable amount of time after Ross was found unresponsive in his cell.

Claimants allege damages in this case, at this time, exceed $2 million dollars, together with costs and attorney fees.

The tort claim has been referred to the county’s insurance provider, ICRMP, which has up to 90 days to recommend the claim be admitted or denied. If the claim is denied or no action is taken by ICRMP within the 90-day period, Ross and Mozingo have up to two years from the date of the alleged wrongful conduct to file a lawsuit against the listed defendants.

Documents in case exempted from release

As per department procedure, ICSO requested an outside agency conduct an incident investigation in the Ross death; in this case, the Kamiah Marshal’s Office (KMO). The KMO final report, as well as an autopsy of Ross conducted by the Ada County Coroner, are not considered public documents and are not being released, according to Idaho County Prosecutor Kirk MacGregor.

The autopsy report exempted from release under Idaho Coode 74-124(c) where disclosure would “constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” MacGregor said the county has provided to the Ross family attorney a copy of the autopsy report.

For the KMO report, this is covered under Idaho Code 74-124(b) where disclosure would “deprive a person of a right to a fair trial or an impartial adjudication,” in relation to the recently filed tort, which indicates an intent to file a lawsuit against Idaho County in the future.

“The release of the investigation report, in my opinion, would deprive the county or the Ross family of their right to a fair trial,” MacGregor said, “by releasing information upon which potential jurors in Idaho County would form an opinion prior to the trial ever taking place.”

Ross and Mozingo are being represented by Clark and Feeney, LLP, of Lewiston.


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