The wife of a Venice poet who died in 2002 while in the custody of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is to receive nearly half a million dollars in a lawsuit settlement with the county.
The Sheriff’s Department is to pay Philomene Long, the surviving wife of poet John Thomas Idlet, $475,000, after the county Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday, March 20th, to settle a civil rights lawsuit brought by Long.
The lawsuit alleged that 71-year-old Idlet, also known in literary circles as John Thomas, died in March 2002 after jail personnel failed to provide him adequate medical care. He was serving a four-month sentence at a Sheriff’s Department jail for a sex offense in the 1970s, to which he had pleaded no contest.
Long claimed in the lawsuit that her husband, who arrived at the jail in a wheelchair, had a long history of heart disease and had brought several of his medications with him to the facility.
More than two weeks after Idlet first arrived at the facility, he was found one day on the floor of his cell and complained of having shortness of breath, according to the lawsuit.
Later the same day, jail personnel noted that Idlet had a “crackling” sound coming from his lungs and his urine had become dark, but no decision was made to take him to a hospital after he was evaluated by jail personnel, the lawsuit alleged.
That night Idlet was again found on the floor of his cell and later suffered from shortness of breath and low blood pressure.
He was given medical treatment and transferred to the County USC Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead the next day, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleged that the county was liable for the failure of its staff to provide adequate services of care for the circumstances encountered in Idlet’s death.
In a summary of the case, county attorneys said it was necessary to retain medical experts to review the care rendered to Idlet by county personnel at the jail.
The trial court had originally ruled in favor of the county’s claim that the case was not in violation of civil rights, but Long appealed the ruling.
The Court of Appeals then reversed the trial court ruling, holding that the case did present facts to “create issues for a cause of action for violation of civil rights.”
In the case summary submitted to the Board of Supervisors, county attorneys argued that medical experts would have been critical of the jail personnel’s failure to transfer Idlet to the hospital in a timely manner, given his medical condition.
County attorneys, who said Long would probably have sought about $539,000 in total damages if the case went to trial, recommended that the Board of Supervisors approve a settlement of $475,000.
Idlet, considered a Beat poet, was born in Baltimore and lived in Venice for many years.
His poem, “The Ghost of the Poets,” is engraved on the Venice Poetry Wall on the Venice Boardwalk.