A lawsuit against Grant County over a jail inmate's overdose death can move forward, according to a Washington Appeals Court decision.

The parents of 34-year-old Derek Batton sued the county last year after he overdosed on heroin in 2018, accusing the county of negligence in failing to search another inmate for drugs.

The county asked for the lawsuit to be tossed, contending it was immune from fault because a felony was being committed in Batton's death.

The Grant County Superior Court decided against the county. The appeals court opinion backs up the county court, saying the county had an obligation to ensure Batton’s health and safety.

Appeals court Judge John O. Cooney penned the unanimous opinion of a three-judge panel in Spokane, saying, "As an inmate in its jail, the County possessed complete control over Mr. Batton’s liberty. This created a special relationship wherein the County owed a nondelegable affirmative duty to protect Mr. Batton from harm and ensure his health, welfare, and safety."

According to the appeals court hand down, the Grant County Sheriff’s Office struggled to control the flow of opioids and other contraband into the jail in the summer of 2018.

One lieutenant said it became routine for dealers to deliver drugs to inmates by preplanning their arrests and then secreting the drugs orally, anally, or vaginally into the facility.

Drug toxicity caused several inmates to be hospitalized.

Corrections officers had a bodily search policy, and were authorized to conduct total strip searches of inmates under specified circumstances.

Reportedly, several officers expressed confusion over the process and staff also struggled with the lack of procedures with transgender inmates. As a result, they occasionally failed to comply with the County’s bodily search policy.

Derek Batton was booked into the Grant County Jail on August 10, 2018, followed by Jordan Tebow the next day.

Tebow had been arrested for felony drug charges multiple times and, in at least one instance, had attempted to smuggle contraband into the jail.

Officers had authorization to strip search Tebow, but failed to do so, and he successfully smuggled heroin into the jail.

He offered Batton heroin. Batton, according to the appeals court release, struggled with drug addiction and accepted the offer. He was captured on video surveillance snorting a fatal amount of heroin in the late evening of August 11, 2018.

Batton was found dead in his cell the following day and an autopsy attributed his death to “acute morphine intoxication (likely heroin).”

Tebow later pleaded guilty to controlled substance homicide.

The appeals court decision allows the lawsuit from Batton's parents against Grant County to proceed, The case will be returned to the Grant County Superior Court. No court dates have been set for the suit.

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Gallery Credit: Cindy Campbell

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