$700,000 deal reached in death of jailed bipolar man

He died while being restrained by custody officers

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The parents of Marius C. Asanachescu, a mentally ill Vancouver man who was killed two years ago while in custody at the Clark County Jail, will receive $700,000 from the county and its jail medical provider.

The settlement was negotiated out of court last week by attorneys representing Clark County, ConMed and Asanachescu’s parents.

Cristian and Afrodita Asanachescu filed a lawsuit in April in U.S. District Court in Tacoma, claiming their son’s civil rights were violated.

Asanachescu was 28.

Clark County Medical Examiner Dr. Dennis Wickham ruled the death was a homicide from asphyxia while Asanachescu was being restrained by custody officers. The death was ruled an accident and no charges were filed.

Clark County will pay $450,000 to the family, while ConMed, a Maryland-based company that contracts with the county to provide medical care to inmates, will pay $250,000, said Bernard Veljacic, a Clark County deputy prosecuting attorney.

The county’s portion of the settlement will be covered by the Washington Counties Risk Pool, the county’s insurance provider, Veljacic said.

At the time of his death, Asanachescu, who had bipolar disorder, prior criminal convictions and received Social Security disability payments, was in jail on charges of assaulting his brother. He had been awaiting transfer to Western State Hospital for a mental competency evaluation.

Neither Clark County nor ConMed admitted wrongdoing in Asanachescu’s death, attorneys said.

John Justice, an Olympia attorney hired to represent the county, said Wednesday the agreement to settle was weighed against paying ongoing attorney fees and the potential risk of a large jury verdict.

The Asanachescus were represented by Vancouver attorney William Nelson and Portland attorney David Meyer.

“I think we reached a pretty fair settlement,” Nelson said Wednesday.

The Asanachescus could not be reached Wednesday.

In a 2012 interview with The Columbian, they said their son started using drugs in 1997 to self-medicate for his bipolar disorder and received professional help at Columbia River Mental Health and Lifeline Connections.

Nelson said they tried to do their best by their son, and thought at the time of his arrest that maybe jail would be the best place for him.

“They even thought he would get back on his medication and get help,” Nelson said.

Asanachescu was arrested Jan. 30, 2012, and died Feb. 10, 2012.

He was a week into his stay before he received medication, according to the lawsuit.

According to court documents, on Asanachescu’s third day in jail he reported feeling suicidal and was placed in an anti-suicide smock in a solitary cell, on suicide watch. He began engaging in self-harm, including banging his head against the floor.

Asanachescu, who was 5-foot-8 and 307 pounds, was strapped into a restraint chair, a device that would be used repeatedly during the rest of his stay.

The day of his death, Asanachescu was hitting his head against his cell door and officers tried to place him in the chair. One custody officer, followed by a second officer, fired Tasers at Asanachescu through an opening in the cell door, knocking Asanachescu off balance. Officers went into his cell and pinned him to the ground, according to the lawsuit. Eventually, he stopped struggling. According to the lawsuit, he was asphyxiated by a “spontaneous and unplanned use of deadly force” by seven officers.

Meyer said ConMed was short-staffed during Asanachescu’s stay in the jail.

Had someone prescribed Asanachescu medication earlier and been able to monitor him, the entire restraint situation may have been avoided, Meyer said.

For the first quarter of 2012, the county received a $12,763 credit from ConMed for hours not worked, Meyer said.

“That’s not a good way to manage a contract,” Meyer said. “When the whole purpose is to provide medical services, they should be available,” he said.