MARION, Ind. – The Call 6 Investigators have exclusively obtained records showing what happened to Kendra Shaw, a 25-year-old inmate who died after a severe asthma attack inside the Grant County Jail.
Until now, family and friends had little information regarding the timeline leading to Shaw’s death.
Shaw had a history of asthma and had recently begun using drugs. She was arrested March 24 on a probation violation and theft charge and was taken to jail.
Friends and family said Shaw was trying to take a television from a store.
“Everybody makes mistakes,” said Sianna Messler, Shaw’s friend. “I don’t think anyone that ends up in jail really plans on ending up in jail. Life happens and things happen.”
After Shaw suffered the asthma attack May 7, she was taken off life support and pronounced dead the next day at a Fort Wayne hospital.
Call 6 Investigator Kara Kenney filed a public records request with the Grant County Sheriff’s Office on May 20 and May 27 to find out what happened with Kendra Shaw and to obtain jail policies.
When the sheriff’s office did not provide records, Kenney filed a formal complaint with the Indiana Public Access Counselor.
On June 24, the sheriff’s office, through its attorney, issued an apology for not complying with the public records law and provided 42 pages of documents.
Kenney also requested video from the jail showing Shaw. That video was released after RTV6 paid $200 for copies of eight DVDs.
Friends of Shaw requested to see the video. After viewing it, they told Kenney jail staff did not do enough to help Shaw and that officers should have called the ambulance much sooner.
“I really can’t believe it,” said Messler. “That was the worst thing I’ve ever seen. They acted like they did not have a care in the world.”
Friends told Kenney they were also shocked by what they call a lack of urgency among jail staff as Shaw remained unresponsive and eventually stopped breathing.
Sheriff Darrell Himelick and the sheriff’s office’s attorney have ignored or refused Kenney’s repeated requests to discuss what happened to Shaw.
Kenney has emailed, called and stopped by the sheriff’s office several times, but has been unsuccessful in getting Himelick to meet in person or over the phone.
“Thank you for the opportunity but due to the threat of potential litigation in this matter the Grant County Sheriff’s Department will not comment further on this matter,” said Kyle Persinger, attorney for the sheriff’s office, in an email to Kenney.
Shaw’s mother, Bobbie Sue Frazier, filed a tort claim against the sheriff’s office notifying them of her intent to sue for negligence.
Using jail records and the video, Kenney pieced together a timeline of what happened to Kendra Shaw. This is the first part of that timeline.
- May 5, about 10:30 a.m. — Kendra Shaw told jail staff she wanted to see the nurse because she woke up having an asthma attack and could not breathe. “She was monitored and advised that she wanted to return to the cell block,” according to a timeline submitted by Capt. Randy Albertson.
- May 5, 9:06 p.m. — Shaw called her husband and asked him to bring her breathing machine and medication to the jail.
- May 6, time unknown — Shaw’s husband brought a breathing machine and medication to the jail.
- May 6, about 10 a.m. — Shaw returned to see the nurse and agreed to daily breaking treatments in a room called the “barber shop.”
- May 6, 2:42 p.m. — Shaw received a breathing treatment and returned to her cell block.
- May 6, 8:35 p.m. — Shaw and another inmate went to the barber shop for their breathing treatments, according to jail records.
- May 6, 8:55 p.m. — Shaw used the jail phone to call her mother, telling her she was still having problems breathing. “She feels the nurse does not take her seriously and treats her like an idiot,” read jail documents.
- May 7, 3:33 a.m. — A corrections officer saw Shaw sitting on her bunk with labored breathing, and Shaw told the officer she was having an asthma attack.
- May 7, 3:38 a.m. — Video obtained by the Call 6 Investigators showed Shaw walking out of her cell and then sitting at a table. “She couldn’t breathe. You can see it in her face,” said Natalie Gann, another friend of Shaw, said as she watched the video.
- May 7, 3:42 a.m. — Kendra Shaw and four officers walked into the barber shop. The department provided no video from the barber shop, saying there is not a camera in that room.
Records show Cpl. Aaron Marden called a doctor, who instructed officers to give Shaw a breathing treatment about five minutes after the first. That’s when, documents indicated, Shaw became unresponsive.
According to officer narratives obtained by Kenney, Shaw urinated herself, foamed at the mouth and stopped breathing.
Shaw’s friends said they were frustrated they could not see what happened in the barber shop room, and friends said they were struck by a lack of urgency in the jail hallway.
“They were just walking nonchalantly,” said Messler.
“They were walking slow, and they should have been in a hurry,” said Gann (pictured). “You can tell they don’t care just by watching the video.”
About 3:54 a.m., 20 minutes after Shaw’s complaint of an asthma attack, jail staff called for an ambulance.
“I just can’t believe it. I can’t,” said Messler. “It’s their job to take care of all inmates.”
Grant County Jail policy obtained by RTV6 appears to state that when an inmate is having an “emergency medical situation” such as “serious breathing difficulties,” officers should administer first aid immediately, and a command officer should call for an ambulance.
Because the sheriff did not respond to inquiries from Kenney, it is unclear what the jail considers serious breathing difficulties and whether jail staff followed policy in Shaw’s case.
Gann said jail staff should have called an ambulance for Shaw the morning of May 5, when she first told them she had an asthma attack and asked to see the nurse.
“They should have taken her to the hospital,” said Gann.
The video shows that jail staff brought in a manual resuscitator at 3:54 a.m. and an automated external defibrillator (AED) at 3:56 a.m., and records indicate CPR was attempted.
“This officer hooked the AED to inmate Shaw,” read Marden’s narrative. “The AED stated that there wa(s) no shock available. CPR was then continued.”
- May 7, 4 a.m. — Paramedics arrived on the floor.
- May 7, 4:06 a.m. — The crew from the ambulance put Shaw on a stretcher, and paramedics attempted to revive her as she was taken down a hallway and in an elevator.
- May 7, 4:08 a.m. — Thirty-five minutes after her initial complaint of an asthma attack, Shaw left the jail in an ambulance bound for Marion General Hospital.
Shaw was later airlifted to a Fort Wayne Hospital, where she died at 10:47 p.m. May 8 at age 25.
“I just want to know what happened. What really happened in that room?” Gann said. “What aren’t they showing?”
Though Himelick and his attorney refused repeated requests to talk to RTV6 about the case, the Marion Chronicle-Tribune quoted Himelick as saying his jail staff did nothing wrong and that the situation was handled correctly.
In a May 21 email to Kenney, one of few emailed responses from the sheriff’s office, Himelick said, “I have no disciplinary action occurred reference this inmate’s death.”
Doctor: Asthma Must Be Taken Seriously
Records from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show 3,404 people died from asthma in the United States in 2010, with about 6 percent of them falling in the 25-34 age group.
Dr. Mitchell Grayson, a board-certified allergist who studies asthma, told RTV6 that in an asthma attack, a person’s airways get narrower and narrower, which reduces the ability to get air out of the lungs.
“Basically, they’re being suffocated,” said Grayson. “They aren’t getting oxygen.”
Grayson said episodes can happen very slowly or very rapidly, but asthma is a chronic illness.
He said breathing treatments, such as albuterol, work to quickly open up airways, but it usually work for just a few hours.
“You never want to forget that asthma can kill, and from that standpoint, you want to be on top of any asthma attack,” said Grayson. “If breathing treatments aren’t working, they can’t speak, that’s the time to call 911.”
Grayson is not familiar with Shaw’s case, but said asthma attacks can get bad very quickly for some people.
“Because asthma can kill, you would obviously hope they would err on the side of calling 911 sooner rather than later,” Grayson said.
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“She was always smiling,” said Messler. “I just want to remember her as happy, the way she always was. I’m so sad she had to go through that.”
Friends and family are selling wristbands and doing events in an effort to raise money for Shaw’s headstone.