Clay County Sheriff Michelle Cook, 4 deputies sued in wrongful death lawsuit of 33-year-old inmate

Zoey Fields

A sister is suing Clay County Sheriff Michelle Cook and four sheriff’s deputies in a wrongful death lawsuit of her brother, Joshua Swann, 33, of Macclenny.

The family is asking for $5 million in damages, saying Swann died as a result of abuse and neglect. Attorneys for the family said there is a history of bad behavior at the jail and they hope this case will bring it to light.

The complaint filed against the sheriff and four deputies portrays a gruesome story of abuse and denial of treatment. It claims deputies regularly beat and restrained Swann in his jail cell, resulting in multiple pools of blood, a fractured skull, and denied prescription medication.

“We do not comment on ongoing civil litigation,” a Clay County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson said when asked about the case, Swann’s treatment and how the sheriff intends to respond.
Swann's family is asking for $5 million in damages from Clay County Sheriff Cook and four deputies in the wrongful death lawsuit.Photo byClay County Sheriff's Office

Swann’s cause of death report has not been released, as it takes approximately 90 days from the date of examination to complete the report, a spokesperson from the District IV Medical Examiner’s Office said.

Swann voluntarily admitted himself to HCA Florida Orange Park Hospital on Jan. 24, 2023, on a Baker Act. Swann’s sister, Heather, said Swann had been on medication for schizophrenia most of his adult life and “knew he was starting to have an episode, so he needed to get his medication upped.”

Swan was arrested two days after checking himself into the medical facility. According to the complaint filed to the U.S. Middle District of Florida, Swann was held in solitary confinement throughout the entirety of his time in Clay County Jail for undisclosed reasons.

It also says that Swann was made to wear a restraint jacket, commonly referred to as a “turtle suit,” during the entirety of his confinement. The full complaint can be seen here.

The family’s lawyers are arguing that, despite having been arrested at a mental health facility, Swann was not provided with any mental health care or his medication while in Clay County Jail. They say he was denied food and drinking water, and was repeatedly subjected to verbal and physical abuse by the four deputies, often using restraint chairs and a restraint bed on Swann.

The family’s lawyers say that on Feb. 28, 2023, deputies pulled Swann out of his cell and beat him with knee kicks, hit him with shackles, placed knees on his hands and slammed his head into the concrete floor–causing his skull to fracture and leaving Swann unconscious.

The complaint goes on to say that the deputies then attempted to cover up their abuse by transferring Swann to a restraint bed and placing a “boxing helmet” on his head. The complaint says that one of the deputies cleaned up a pool of blood from the floor outside of Swann’s cell in order to cover up the assault.

On March 6, 2023, Swann was found unresponsive in his cell and was determined to be deceased. The complaint said the four deputies, again, acted to cover up their abuse and told a “trustee” to clean Swann’s cell with bleach before calling for medical care.

“The big irony that I see that really just burns me is, you know, the inmates are far more ethical than the officers,” Swann’s family’s Attorney Chris Wickersham told News4Jax. “And none of these people have anything to gain, and everything to lose.”
The Swann family said that Sheriff Michelle Cook was responsible for adequate and proper supervision of Clay County Jail.Photo byClay County Sheriff's Office

Swann’s sister said that several other jail inmates have reached out to her and relayed stories of detention center deputies “brutally beating” her brother.

Important dates and times to note in the complaint:

  • Jan. 24 at approximately 6:58 p.m., Swann voluntarily Baker Acts himself.
  • Jan. 25 at approximately 7:13 a.m., doctors evaluate Swann for the first time since checking in.
  • Jan. 26 at approximately 7:30 a.m., Swann is arrested and transported to Clay County Jail.
  • March 6: Swann pronounced dead at Clay County Jail (39 days after his arrest).

Swann was arrested on a misdemeanor, simple battery charge, after a Jan. 26 incident where he and another patient (who also voluntarily Baker Acted themselves) got into an altercation at Orange Park Hospital. The patient told deputies that he was watching television in the TV room on floor two of the medical facility when Swan entered the TV room through the door immediately next to him.

After entering the room, Swann immediately strikes the other patient with a closed right fist to the left side of his head, deputies reported.

It is noted that Swann was supposed to be released Jan. 26, but the nursing staff medicated him due to him “being agitated” from the above described incident, they said. Swann was discharged from Orange Park Hospital and transported to Clay County Jail where he was placed on suicide watch. Deputies did not explain why Swann was being put on suicide watch.

It is also noted that video footage from the TV room at Orange Park Hospital was reviewed and showed Swann striking the other male patient, deputies said.

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Accredited journalist with experience covering a wide range of stories consisting of breaking news, city and county government, crime and courts, feature stories and local interest. Twitter: @zoeyfields0

Jacksonville, FL

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