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Prosecutor: No criminal charges warranted in case of Missouri woman who died in Kansas jail

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LAWRENCE, Kansas — A prosecutor has decided that no criminal charges are warranted in the death of a Missouri woman at a Kansas jail two days after she and her sister were arrested for possessing a small amount of marijuana.

Relatives of Brenda Sewell of Kansas City, Missouri, contend that jailers in Sherman County in western Kansas refused to give her prescription medication and were slow to help after she collapsed in her cell. Sewell was 58 when she died Jan. 22.

Sherman County Attorney Charles Moser released the police investigative file exclusively to the Lawrence Journal-World this month, the newspaper (http://bit.ly/1y9G6p9) reported. The report showed that Douglas County Attorney Charles Branson was brought in to review the case and found that the correctional officers overseeing Sewell didn't commit a crime.

"I will make no comment with regard to civil liability," Branson wrote in the review that was completed in May.

The file said Sewell vomited more than two dozen times over 15 hours. After being taken to a medical center and given intravenous fluids and anti-nausea medicine, she was returned to her cell. The next morning she was sick again, began having seizures and stopped breathing.

Sewell suffered abdominal hemorrhaging when her spleen ruptured, according to an autopsy report. Contributing factors to the rupture included vomiting and abdominal retching, the autopsy found.

Sewell's family doesn't understand why she wasn't provided better, faster medical treatment. Sewell suffered from several autoimmune diseases including fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis and Sjogren's syndrome, her family said. She also had thyroid disease, high blood pressure and Hepatitis C, the family said.

Among Sewell's prescriptions were pain and muscle relaxant medications prescribed to deaden the pain that some of the diseases caused.

"I firmly believe she would be alive today if they had just listened instead of treating (her and his aunt) like hardened criminals," said Sewell's son, Aaron Ray. "Everything about this was absurd."

The family says it plans to file a lawsuit over Sewell's treatment.

Neither Sewell nor her sister, Joy Biggs, who pleaded guilty in August to a felony drug count, had criminal backgrounds.

Branson said in his review that to charge someone with mistreatment of a confined person, the evidence must show the victim was abused, neglected or ill-treated.

"Based upon the review of the materials listed above, there is no evidence of any type of physical abuse by jail staff of Ms. Sewell," Branson wrote.

Branson also said jail staff appeared to be courteous toward Sewell. He also noted that Sewell never complained of being neglected or mistreated, although she did say she was sick. Branson found there was "some delay in summoning help" for Sewell just before she died.


Information from: Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World, http://www.ljworld.com

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