SEBASTIAN COUNTY, Ark. (KNWA/FOX24) — We are learning more about the death of a man who died while in custody at the Sebastian County Jail. A civil lawsuit has been filed against Sebastian County, the county jail medical provider, Turn Key Health Clinics, and several other defendants.

The county sheriff denies the allegations, but lawyers for Larry Price Junior’s estate stand behind the lawsuit.

“This was a man who was basically ignored to death,” said Hank Balson, one of three attorneys from the Budge & Heipt law firm representing the Price family. He said they are a Seattle, Washington-based law firm that works on prison, jail and law enforcement issues across the country.

According to the lawsuit filed Friday, Larry Price, who died more than a year ago while being held in the Sebastian County Jail, had long battled paranoid schizophrenia.

The lawsuit said Price often went to the Fort Smith Police Department and that officers knew who he was and the mental health issues he faced. The lawsuit said Price was suffering from an “acute mental health crisis” when he entered the FSPD station on August 19, 2020.

“He was yelling and cursing at the officers,” Balson said. “At one point, he took her empty hand and held it like a child would if she was pointing a gun and threatening the officers.”

According to the Fort Smith police arrest report sent to KNWA/FOX24 by Balson, the officer who filed the report acknowledged that Price came to the apartment several times a day, but was more agitated than usual.

The officer who wrote the report described the incident as follows.

“Price then started gesturing with his hands like he was holding a gun and threatening to shoot.”

FSPD report on the arrest of Larry Price

The officer felt that “it would be in (Price’s) best interest if several officers arrested him or tried to calm him down.”

He was charged with first degree terroristic threat, which is a class D felony. According to the Arkansas Penal CodeA person commits the offense of making a terrorist threat in the first degree if, for the purpose of terrorizing another person, the person threatens to cause death or serious bodily injury or substantial damage to another person’s property.

The lawsuit said Price’s bail was set at $1,000 which, as someone who lived in poverty and was often homeless, he could not afford.

“Usually people can get away with posting 10% of that. I didn’t have $100,” Balson said. “Basically, he was in jail because he was poor, mentally ill and ignored and neglected by a system that just wasn’t equipped to deal with someone with mental illness.”

The lawsuit says Price spent a little over a year in solitary confinement in jail before his death.

“A record shows that when he entered the jail in August 2020, his registration form indicated that he weighed 185 pounds. An autopsy on him showed that he weighed 120 pounds at death,” Sheriff Hobe Runion said in a video statement released Saturday. “That means that during 12 months in jail he lost about five pounds a month.”

The lawsuit says Fort Smith EMTs, as well as staff at Mercy Hospital, estimated Price’s weight to be 90 pounds just by looking at his condition. Balson said this low estimated weight says a lot.

“The meaning of that is how do you appear? And so how would he have appeared to the jailers and the people who were supposed to be paying attention to him,” he said.

Balson provided photos of what Price looked like in good health to KNWA/FOX24. The lawsuit includes graphic photographs showing how emaciated Price had become, with bones visible all over his body.

You can see a side-by-side comparison of one of the autopsy photos with one of the healthy photos in the video attached to this web story. Viewer discretion is advised.

The lawsuit says jail guards logged more than 4,000 consecutive wellness checks on Price between Aug. 1 and Aug. 29, 2021. It said they all had the same entry: “inmate and cell OK.”

But he said that in the early morning hours of the 29th, just over a year after his arrest, corrections officers found Price in his cell “unresponsive, in a pool of standing water and urine.”

“They knew that I was losing weight. They knew he couldn’t take care of himself in jail,” Balson said. “They are aware of this, but have not taken any action to help him.”

He said turnkey nurse Chisteena Ferguson, who is named a defendant in the case, ordered jail guards to weigh Price and begin food and intake records on Jan. 28, 2021. He said guards completed the record only sporadically, and Ferguson was unable to keep track. The lawsuit says the last food and liquid record was completed on April 25, 2021.

Sheriff Runion said his staff provided Price with food.

“Let me make one point clear, the jail staff gave this inmate plenty of food and water every day. Jail medical staff were in regular contact with him,” Sheriff Runion said. “As proof that he suffered from serious mental illness, he would sometimes eat the Styrofoam tray instead of the food on it.”

Sheriff Runion also wanted clarification on Price’s death.

“The autopsy said that the inmate died with COVID-19,” he said. “We all want to know more about what other factors may have led to his tragic death.”

The autopsy report, shared with KNWA/FOX24 by Balson, said COVID-19 was a contributing cause of death, but the actual cause of death was acute dehydration and malnutrition.

Balson said the circumstances surrounding Price’s death are a violation of the 14th Amendment.

“For people who are in jail who have not been convicted of a crime, they are protected by the 14th amendment,” he said. One of the requirements of the 14th Amendment also prohibits the government from being willfully indifferent to the serious medical or mental health needs of people in custody.”

Sheriff Runion is asking people to withhold judgment until his internal investigation and court case are complete.

KNWA/FOX24 is working to obtain more information from the Arkansas State Police and the Sebastian County Prosecutor, who declined to file criminal charges in this case in January 2022.

Fort Smith police declined to comment at this time.