SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — A 24-year-old South Dakota woman who suffered a fatal methamphetamine overdose while in custody was asked repeatedly by jail staff whether she had taken any illegal drugs and was moved to a holding cell for special monitoring after her cellmate requested medical attention for her, authorities said Thursday.
Attorney General Marty Jackley, whose office conducted the state investigation, told The Associated Press that that the circumstances surrounding Sarah Circle Bear’s death on July 5 are unfortunate, but that “the normal jail procedures were followed.”
Circle Bear’s family is questioning whether the American Indian woman received adequate medical attention before she died, but jail officials in Aberdeen say they did everything they could and there was no indication she was in danger before she was found unresponsive in a holding cell.
Sarah Circle Bear called for jail staff using an emergency call button around 8 a.m. and told staff she had a stomach ache, but didn’t ask for medical attention, Brown County Sheriff’s deputy and jail administrator Craig Nelson told The Associated Press on Thursday.
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Circle Bear’s father, Terrance Circle Bear, has said an inmate who was in custody with his daughter in Aberdeen, where Sarah Circle Bear was taken the day of her arrest for ingesting a controlled substance, told him his daughter was suffering and repeatedly asked for help but was ignored.
Her cellmate pushed the help button at 8:18 a.m. and told staff that Circle Bear was acting strange, according to Brown County Sheriff Mark Milbrandt. Jail staff didn’t think Circle Bear wasn’t acting unusual, Milbrandt said, but they decided to put her in a holding cell after consulting with a nurse, who told them to monitor her vitals.
Milbrandt said it’s common for inmates to use the emergency button to call staff for non-emergencies and that complaints like stomachaches are not unusual. He said Circle Bear had previously been in custody at the jail and made similar complaints.
“We feel saddened by what happened,” he said. “We did what we could do.”
Circle Bear was arrested July 3 with her fiancé, Wayne Pahl, following a police chase, according to state authorities. The state Highway Patrol has not released the details, but Pahl’s mother, Carla, said her son was fleeing after he and Circle Bear had bought meth in Sioux Falls.
Pahl said her son, who’s in custody at the Roberts County Jail, told her that he swallowed the meth and hours later began having convulsions and had to be transferred to a hospital. Pahl said she didn’t know what Circle Bear did with the methamphetamine she had.
Jackley said investigators have concluded that Circle Bear did not obtain the drugs while in custody and that she brought them into the Brown County jail in a way “that was not detectable from regular and acceptable jail procedures.”
Jackley said three separate jail workers had asked Circle Bear whether she was under the influence of any drugs, and all three times she said no. Had she told authorities she had ingested drugs, Mildbrandt said, she would have been helped immediately.
Circle Bear was monitored on video constantly while in the holding cell and jail staff checked on her every 15 minutes, Milbrandt said. She showed movement in her cell on video about two minutes before she was found unresponsive at 10:37 a.m., and a jail employee administered CPR 12 seconds after not finding a pulse. She was pronounced dead at a hospital later that day.
Terrance Circle Bear has said he’s pursuing legal action with out-of-state attorneys but didn’t provide further details.