Kansas: Woman's Death In Jail After Marijuana Arrest Is Investigated
By Steve Elliott
The January death of a 58-year-old Kansas woman in jail after being arrested for marijuana she'd legally purchased in Colorado is being investigated by local authorities as family members continue to look for answers. Her sister alleges that jail guards stood by, ignoring her pleas for help.
Brenda Sewell and her sister Joy Biggs had been pulled over January 20 in Goodland by the Kansas Highway Patrol for speeding, reports Glenn E. Rice at The Kansas City Star. A trooper arrested them after finding a small amount of marijuana, according to relatives.
Family members want to know why Sewell started foaming at the mouth, and why jailers took so long to help as her sister and another cellmate tried to revive the woman.
While in Colorado, Sewell had bought some cannabis to help ease pain associated with her ailments, as well as to manage nausea and improve her appetite, according to her younger brother, Rick Ray of Kansas City. Sewell had 31 grams of marijuana in a sealed jar when she was stopped by the Kansas Highway Patrol, according to Biggs. The officer claimed he smelled marijuana.
"It was a profile thing after he found out we were coming from Colorado because there was nothing visible," Biggs said, reports Roxanna Hegeman at the Associated Press. "There was nothing going on. There wasn't a smell in the car, I can guarantee you."
Family members are asking why the two women were held for days at the Sherman County Jail without being allowed to make a phone call after their arrest. Biggs said there was no working telephone in the cell where they were kept.
Sewell died on January 22 at the Goodland Regional Medical Center. The Sherman County Sheriff's Office refuses to comment until an investigation is completed.
The 58-year-old had been treated for about 10 years for hepatitis C, thyroid issues and fibromyalgia, according to Ray, who said she was carrying several medications for those ailments.
"She had some health problems but nothing that was life threatening; it was under control," Ray said.
The jailers wouldn't give Sewell her medications because she kept them in a daily pill counter instead of in the original bottles, Ray said, and jailers were unable to identify the pills.
Sewell hadn't been feeling well, according to her sister, Biggs. Jailers sent her to a hospital after she'd been vomiting all day on Tuesday, and then put her back in jail. When she returned to the cell an hour later, Sewell told her sister that the sheriff's deputy who took her to the hospital had told the nurse on duty that she was "faking it," and just to get some liquids in her and send her back to jail.
Early on Wednesday, Sewell was feeling worse; her eyes began dilating, according to Biggs. She tried to speak, but was unable to form any words. When she began foaming at the mouth, Biggs told her family she begged for help from the jailers.
As Biggs and another cellmate tried to hold Sewell up, they could feel her body gradually becoming more limp and cold. Then she stopped breathing.
"We kept hollering and hollering, 'Please open the door and help us; she is dying; she is cold,' " a sobbing Biggs said. "And they just won't. They just kept looking in the window, looking in the window.
"Nobody came to help her," Biggs said.
She began CPR on her dying sister. Finally, paramedics arrived and Sewell was taken back to the hospital.
Biggs said she was taken to another room and told her sister was dead.
All the cellmates were then put into another cell -- this time, one that had a working phone Biggs could use to call out. She called a close family friend who is a lawyer.
"I called the lawyer because I just thought that was most important because I felt like they had killed her," Biggs said. "And then I made him call the family because I just couldn't -- I was so freaked out."
"At this time as is typical in cases like this the investigation is immediately turned over to an outside agency," read a statement from the Sherman County Sheriff's Office, which said "proper procedure was followed in the confinement, treatment and care of Brenda Sewell."
"No further comments will be made pending the results of autopsy and outside investigation," the statement reads.