Million-dollar lawsuit filed against jail after February death

By Glenn Battishill - [email protected]



Courtesy photo | Delaware County Jail

A lawsuit has been filed in federal court against the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office in connection with an Ashley woman’s death in the Delaware County Jail in February.

The family of Rhianna Michelle Filichia is now demanding at least $1 million in compensation and $500,000 in punitive damages.

The lawsuit centers around the Feb. 21 death of Filichia, 38, of Ashley, who was brought into the Delaware County Jail to serve time on a traffic offense and died while incarcerated.

The Delaware County Coroner’s Office recently released a final autopsy report and confirmed the cause of death — as preliminary findings indicated — was peritonitis, an infection in the abdominal cavity.

The coroner’s office had said that peritonitis is a potentially fatal condition resulting from an infection in the abdominal cavity and said it is typically caused by an infection in the intestines that then spreads into the abdominal cavity.

Delaware County Sheriff Russell Martin ordered an internal investigation of the department after the death of Filichia and another prisoner that weekend.

Martin said Wednesday the internal investigation has been concluded and no disciplinary action was taken against jail staff.

“We feel our staff responded appropriately,” Martin said.

He added that, while the sheriff’s office will not be making any changes to jail policy as a direct response to the incident, it is continually reviewing and updating policies.

Court documents filed on behalf of Filichia’s mother, Teresa Berry, state that Filichia had undergone surgery in December for diverticulitis and was in chronic pain as the result of the surgery.

Filichia was serving 16 days in the county jail on work release, meaning she would report to the jail on Friday and be released Sunday so she could stay employed. Court documents state she failed to appear at the county jail on Feb. 6 because of her medical condition and a warrant was issued for her arrest.

The lawsuit alleges Filichia asked her roommate to take her to the hospital on Feb. 20 and, as they were preparing to leave, deputies from the sheriff’s office took her into custody for the outstanding warrant.

The lawsuit further alleges that medical professionals at the jail did not provide her with any medical attention and placed her in a cell at the jail.

According to the lawsuit, staff at the jail entered her cell on Feb. 21 after she had not moved for 12 hours and she vomited green fluid. She reportedly was not responsive and was pronounced dead a short time later at Grady Memorial Hospital.

In its response, the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office denies a majority of the allegations contained in the lawsuit and asks that the case be dismissed.

A preliminary pretrial conference has been set for June 9 at 11:30 a.m. before District Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Preston Deavers at the district courthouse in Columbus.

Filichia’s death was not the only one in the county jail that weekend.

Another inmate at the county jail also died just hours after Filichia. Around 1:30 a.m. Feb. 22, Reynoldsburg police detective Tye Downard, 43, of Westerville, was found dead in his jail cell. Martin said Downard hanged himself with his bed sheet in his single-person jail cell.

Downard was arrested by U.S. marshals after authorities said he made more than 20 narcotic deliveries between October 2015 and February 2016. Officials said Downard may have been delivering heroin, cocaine, marijuana and Percocet that had been seized as part of police investigations.

Prosecutors in Franklin County have since dismissed more than a dozen of Downard’s drug cases.

Filichia Courtesy photo | Delaware County Jail

By Glenn Battishill

[email protected]

Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG

Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG