NC county reaches $2M settlement in jail death

When Michele Smiley was booked on a probation violation she told staff she had ingested "a lot" of meth


Associated Press

ASHEVILLE, N.C. — A county in North Carolina will pay $2 million to the family of a woman who died of an overdose in jail.

Buncombe County agreed to the settlement Wednesday in the case of Michele Smiley, news outlets reported.

An autopsy determined Smiley, 34, died of a methamphetamine overdose in October 2017. She had been booked in the county jail on a probation violation and told staff she had ingested “a lot” of meth to avoid being caught with the drug, according to news outlets. She later died at a hospital.

Video evidence from the jail showed Smiley was left alone in a cell for nearly an hour before dying, the Asheville Citizen Times reported. That evidence pushed the case into a settlement.

“I felt if the jury got the case, that video would have destroyed us,” said Sean Perrin, the attorney representing former Buncombe County Sheriff Van Duncan and four jailers on duty the day of Smiley's death.

“The video was a problem for everybody,” said Thomas Doughton, the attorney for three other jailers involved in the case.

The North Carolina Division of Health Service Regulation found deficiencies in how jail staff handled the incident, according to news outlets. The division's report found rules on inmate supervision were not met, such as placing Smiley on a four-times-an-hour observation watch.

“They've changed a lot up there because of Michele,” her grandmother Irene Kent told the Citizen Times. Kent and her husband Roy Kent say they are caring for Smiley's six children.

The settlement money will be put into annuities that the children will be able to access after turning 18, with annual payments through age 25, according to the Kents and their attorneys.

“I have to keep going,” Irene Kent said. “I still miss her; I still cry over her. But the thing is, I got to keep going for them babies.”

Associated Press
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