Woman sues Allegheny County over post-arrest amputation

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PITTSBURGH (AP) – A western Pennsylvania woman has sued a county, its sheriff’s deputies and the company that used to run its jail infirmary, claiming her lower arm had to be amputated because of rough treatment during her arrest followed by improper medical care once she was incarcerated.

Attorney Marvin Leibowitz said his client, 35-year-old Amy Needham of Ross Township, feels her life is “ruined” by her injuries. Needham has three children and worked in a restaurant before her injury.

In a federal lawsuit filed Monday, Needham contends five Allegheny County deputies broke down her door on April 2 and arrested her for a missing a court hearing on a charge that eventually was reduced to disorderly conduct – a citation.

Needham says deputies used a stun gun, twisted her arm and put on handcuffs that were too tight, affecting the blood flow and nerves in her arm. Once jailed, she developed a staph infection, Needham says, but jail staff denied 16 requests for medical attention before she was hospitalized and her arm was amputated.

The lawsuit names Allegheny County, Allegheny County Correctional Health Services – a nonprofit created by the county health department, which ran the jail’s infirmary until it was replaced by another company in August – Sheriff William Mullen and two underlings who, unlike Mullen, were at the scene and participated in Needham’s arrest.

County spokeswoman Amie Downs declined to comment, but Mullen defended his staff.

“From reading the reports and talking to the detectives, they don’t have a history of this,” Mullen said, referring to using excessive force, which Needham alleges. “They did what they had to do in response to her not coming to the door and trying to hide and her resistance once they entered her home.”

The deputies went to Needham’s home because a judge issued an arrest warrant after she missed a preliminary hearing on charges of resisting arrest and disorderly conduct stemming from an incident in January.

Needham says she was using the bathroom when the deputies entered her home and broke down her bathroom door, though Mullen says she was trying to elude and hide from the officers.

Although Needham eventually pleaded guilty to a summary disorderly conduct charge for the underlying January case, she was charged with resisting arrest and simple assault for the April 2 encounter with the deputies. She pleaded guilty to those charges earlier this month and received nine months of probation.

Needham’s lawsuit seeks more than $75,000, the threshold amount to sue in federal court, for claims including excessive force, cruel and unusual punishment and negligence.

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