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Woman gets $55,000 in Holding Center suit

An Evans woman who landed in the Erie County Holding Center for an unpaid parking ticket will get $55,000 to settle her lawsuit over the conditions she encountered during her 48-hour ordeal.

Linda C. Arthur, 62, sued the county after she said she was denied her cancer and arthritis medications and left in a crowded lockup room overnight in December 2008 while she was held in the Holding Center waiting to see a judge.

Arthur detailed the frightening weekend she encountered in the Holding Center to The Buffalo News in 2009 in an attempt to bring to light the conditions at the jail.

She later filed a federal lawsuit, claiming she was denied due process when she lingered in a cold cell with no beds, a broken water fountain and 11 other women.

The charge she faced for failing to appear in court to resolve the parking ticket was later dismissed.

"She still suffers from the trauma of her experience at the Holding Center," her attorney, David J. Seeger, wrote in the federal lawsuit filed last year.

The Sheriff's Office has since been forced by the state to change the way it handles detainees who have not yet been arraigned. Everyone who enters the jail must be given personal hygiene items and be taken to a housing unit within four hours of arrival to meet more stringent jail standards than what is required for a municipal lockup, said Undersheriff Mark N. Wipperman.

At the time of Arthur's arrest, the county was in a dispute with the State Commission of Correction over whether prearraigned inmates could be treated as those held in lockup, who don't need to be given housing and hygiene items until after they see a judge.

The state now does periodic checks to determine that inmates in the Holding Center are moved out of the general lockup room within four hours, Wipperman said.

"Within four hours, you would get the bed roll, the toiletries and everything, and then obviously go up to a housing unit," Wipperman said.

Buffalo recently opened a new lockup in the City Court building to handle men arrested before they are arraigned. The Holding Center also now has a registered nurse at the booking desk to screen inmates as they enter, as required under a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice, Wipperman said.

That settlement also requires the county to reconstruct an unused gym in the Holding Center into a reception area that would consolidate health staff in one location where they can screen all inmates as they are admitted.

Arthur alleged in her lawsuit that she told two deputies working in the Holding Center that she took medication daily to prevent the recurrence of breast cancer and to treat arthritis but was never given the prescriptions.

Arthur was held overnight in the general lockup room before being taken to Buffalo City Court, where she was told she couldn't be arraigned because her paperwork had been lost, according to her lawsuit. She was then taken back to the Holding Center for a second night, when she was finally taken to a dormitory housing unit within the jail, according to the suit.

Wipperman said jail staff must verify with originating doctors and pharmacies that an inmate is on a particular medication before it can be given to that person.

Erie County and Arthur settled the case last week, according to court documents.

"I can't comment on what the reasoning was behind our determination on how we valued it or why we settled it, but there was an offer of judgment made by the last administration for the $55,000," said County Attorney Michael Siragusa.

Arthur declined to comment on what she described as a confidential settlement agreement.

The county continues to face another federal lawsuit over the 2008 death of Marguerite Arrindell. That lawsuit alleges that Arrindell was denied blood-pressure medicine while she was held in the Holding Center. She suffered a stroke and died a few months later, according to the suit.

email: djgee@buffnews.com