Ignoring inmate's infection costs Scott County $12.2 million

Man in brown shirt enters room alongside woman in green blazer
Terrance Winborn and attorney Kathryn Bennett held a news conference in Minneapolis to discuss Winborn's $12.2 million settlement with Scott County.
Matt Sepic | MPR News

Scott County has agreed to pay $12.2 million to a Minneapolis man who had to have both arms amputated after jail staff ignored his pleas for medical help. Attorneys for Terrance Winborn said Wednesday that the settlement is likely the largest amount ever paid in Minnesota in a “deliberate indifference” case involving a jail.

Shakopee police arrested Winborn, 62, around 1:30 a.m. on Aug. 27, 2020 and took him to the Scott County Jail. His blood alcohol level of was .13 percent, which is just above the legal limit for driving of .08. 

According to court documents, a jail nurse screened Winborn for COVID-19 just before 8 a.m. The nurse noted that Winborn would continue to be monitored, but she didn’t document the reason or the type of monitoring that was needed. 

A report from the overnight shift noted that Winborn had health issues, but his attorney Kathryn Bennett said that jail staff again failed to document key details. Later that morning, both before and after his bail hearing, Winborn vomited several times. 

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At a news conference with her client Wednesday, Bennett said Winborn vomited eight hours after he arrived at the jail, long after he sobered up, which should have been a red flag for staff. 

“Vomiting was an objective warning regarding his medical condition,” Bennett said. “He required timely assessment by medical personnel. None occurred.” 

It turned out that Winborn had Streptococcus pyogenes, a serious bacterial infection that can cause organ failure and death if untreated. 

Bennett said that Winborn’s health continued to deteriorate while he was locked up, and jail staff failed to conduct the required half-hourly wellness checks on each inmate. 

A log of these checks that Bennett and her colleagues obtained shows entries for nearly two dozen inmates, including Winborn, that all begin and end at 9:27 a.m. on Aug. 28. She said that indicates that a corrections officer entered the data but did not check on the inmates.

Bennett also said that jail staff failed to retain surveillance video that may have recorded what happened. She said jail nurse Debra Schneider did check on Winborn at 10 a.m. on Aug. 28, but ignored even more serious problems. 

“He was unable to stand, his right hand was extremely swollen and he was in pain,” Bennett said. “These were further obvious warning signs of his serious medical condition yet again nothing was done to get him the medical care that he required.”

More than four hours after his last visit with Schneider, Winborn fell off his bunk. Only then did the nurse determine that he needed hospital treatment, but for high blood pressure and pre-existing medical conditions, not the far more serious symptoms that he was showing. 

Even then, Bennett said that nobody on the jail’s staff called for an ambulance. She said the county was trying to avoid the expense, so either a police officer or jail guard took Winborn to St. Francis Regional Medical Center.

man in brown shirt looks up and to his right
Terrance Winborn looks up at a video screen as his attorneys discuss details of his settlement with Scott County.
Matt Sepic | MPR News

Though the hospital is three miles from the jail, Winborn didn’t arrive at the emergency department until 46 minutes after his final visit with the jail nurse. Unable to provide him with the needed care, staff at St. Francis sent Winborn to the intensive care unit at Abbott Northwestern in Minneapolis, where he was treated for septic shock, a heart attack, and multi-organ failure. He spent two months on a ventilator.

Because of the bacterial infection, Winborn had to have his right forearm amputated. Later in 2020, he had to be readmitted to Abbott because of a continued infection, and doctors amputated his left forearm. 

Winborn said this is not something he wishes to see happen to anyone else. 

“This is something that nobody would want to go through. I really can’t explain it because there were so many times that I thought I was going to pass away,” Winborn said 

Winborn is able to walk on his own and is able to pick up objects with a prosthetic attached to his right arm, but said he has a hard time eating and using the bathroom. His medical treatment cost around $2 million, which is covered by the settlement. 

Jason Hiveley, an attorney for Scott County, said in an email to MPR News that the county’s insurer — the Minnesota Counties Intergovernmental Trust — is paying for the settlement. Hiveley said the county is hopeful that the money will provide Winborn “with the medical care and quality of life assistance he needs.”

Hiveley did not answer questions from MPR News about Schneider’s employment status.