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Jackson County pays $1.2 million to family of man who died at jail after being restrained

Jackson County settles a wrongful death lawsuit in the case of an inmate who died at the downtown jail
Sam Zeff
KCUR 89.3
Jackson County recently settled a wrongful death lawsuit in the case of an inmate who died at the downtown jail.

Marquis Wagner died two years ago after being handcuffed and placed in a restraining chair, according to a lawsuit filed in Jackson County Circuit Court. Guards allegedly ignored Wagner's pleas of "I can't breathe."

Jackson County will pay $1.2 million to settle the wrongful death case of 21-year-old Marquis Wagner, who died in the downtown jail in 2021. With one abstention, the county legislature approved the settlement Monday.

According to a lawsuit filed by his family, Wagner screamed “I can’t breathe” as he was subdued by Jackson County Detention Center staff and placed in a restraint chair.

The lawsuit also alleged guards ignored his pleas for medical attention after Wagner was restrained.

"Had they taken his vital signs and had they seen what was going on with his body, those vital signs would have shown that he needed medical attention and he needed it quickly," family attorney John Picerno told KSHB 41 News.

Guards eventually discovered Wagner wasn't breathing and called paramedics after being unable to resuscitate him. Wagner was then taken to Truman Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

Wagner had been arrested Dec. 9, 2021 and accused of shooting through the door of his Kansas City apartment. Wagner had thought someone was breaking in, but police determined no one was trying to get into the apartment.

Wagner told officers that he had not slept for several days and was seeing demons, the lawsuit said, and he was in the process of detoxing from alcohol.

Wagner was booked into the Jackson County Detention Center intake lobby around 11 a.m. on Dec. 10, but was allegedly not given a mental health evaluation.

Instead, he was left alone in a cell without food or water for eight hours, during which time he reportedly exhibited strange behavior like speaking to nonexistent people.

Several jail staff entered the cell and subdued Wagner, putting him into clothing aimed at keeping him from hurting himself. Wagner allegedly stated multiple times that he was having trouble breathing.

Jackson County Sheriff Darryl Forte said in a statement that the “safety, security and wellness of all remain a priority” at the jail, but declined further comment.

Wagner’s family also sued Advanced Correctional Healthcare and Maxim Healthcare, two companies that provide medical care at the jail. Those companies were not members to the settlement, and that part of the case is set for trial next September.

The Jackson County Legislature approved the wrongful death settlement the same day it got an update on the construction of the new detention center.

Vertical construction should begin next month, according to the monthly report. The report also says the project remains on budget and the building is expected to be operational by February 2026.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

You deserve to know what your taxpayer dollars are paying for and what public officials are doing on your behalf – I’ll work to report on irresponsible government spending in the Kansas City area and shed light on controversies that slow government down. And when you hear my voice in the morning, you know you’re getting everything you need to start your day. Email me at sam@kcur.org, find me on Twitter @samzeff or call me at 816-235-5004.
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