In May 2019, Alex Billmeyer died from methamphetamine intoxication after being held in a Dubuque County, Iowa jail cell for a little over an hour, as Filter reported. The release of body-worn camera footage in the fall revealed sheriff’s deputies expressing blatant disregard for the 29-year-old man, who was in the midst of a mental health crisis, likely a result of overamping, following his arrest.
His mother, Carmen Billmeyer, is now preparing to sue the law enforcement officials and offices that allegedly failed to follow policies and procedures that would have kept him safe—actions that the complaint, exclusively reviewed by Filter, describes as the “moving force” behind his death.
The complaint, soon to be filed in the Northern District of Iowa, claims that Sheriff Joe Kennedy, his office, five deputies, the Dubuque Police Department and two of its officers were “intentional and grossly negligent, indicated active malice toward Mr. Billmeyer and a total, deliberate and reckless disregard for and indifference to his life and his constitutional and common law right.”
“We can’t heal until this over. I want all the answers that I don’t know about. No offers; it needs to go to trial,” Carmen Billmeyer told Filter.
Sheriff Kennedy declined Filter‘s request for comment due to pending litigation.
The specifics of Alex Billmeyer’s death will likely be revealed in discovery. But the complaint itself describes new details about the case. One particular deputy, it says, observed Billmeyer go from acting in a frenzy in his cell to sitting motionless—and failed to do anything about it.
For about the first half hour of Billmeyer’s time in the holding cell, he was “talking to himself and crawling around the cell without an answer,” reported one deputy who’s a defendant in the pending lawsuit, according to the complaint. Another defendant—who will be referred to in this article as Deputy X, since he hasn’t been served notice of the lawsuit—had told Sergeant that Billmeyer had “vomited on himself and was smearing it on the walls as he crawled on his hands and knees,” the complaint states.
Billmeyer had been displaying symptoms of serious medical concern in the cell for around an hour. The sheriff’s office has no record of medical assessment or care for Billmeyer, the complaint reports. That’s despite Billmeyer’s request to be taken to the hospital, as captured by body-worn camera footage obtained by the Telegraph Herald. Instead of heeding the request, deputies told him that “You’re gonna be okay, Alex” and “You’re safe.”
In a sudden change from his hours-long behavior, Billmeyer was observed by Deputy X—who had only around six months of experience as a deputy at the time of the death—to be “sitting upright in the corner of the cell, motionless,” the complaint describes.
Filter reached out to Deputy X for comment on social media and has not received a response.
Deputy X told Sergeant about what he saw, but made no intervention, states the complaint. It wasn’t until another 16 minutes had passed that Deputy X checked on Billmeyer again. This time, he saw Billmeyer sitting in a position “he didn’t like” and went to “move him,” the complaint reads. Billmeyer was “pale white and unresponsive,” he found.
It was only until he was found unresponsive that Billmeyer received medical attention, in the form of a pulse assessment and resuscitation attempts by the responder, according to the complaint.
The delayed action described would seem to be in violation of multiple jail policies listed in documents obtained by Filter. The jail requires that “emergency medical needs are tended to as soon as need is identified.” That likely should have happened over an hour before Billmeyer’s death, when the deputies observed symptoms that they described as “super bad” in the body-worn camera footage.
Furthermore, according to jail policy, Billmeyer’s “behavior,” “state of consciousness” and “drug use” should have been detected in a receiving screening required to be conducted “as soon as possible following [his] arrival to the facility,” which would have included a “brief medical questionnaire designed to detect medical and mental health conditions requiring additional triage, assessment or treatment by a health care professional.”
Detainees are considered “not fit for confinement” if they appear to be experiencing a “serious medical condition,” states the policy. That includes being “seriously impaired by […] a controlled substance,” being disoriented or hallucinating—all of which Billmeyer seemed to be experiencing.
Those three signs require a detainee’s self-disclosure, and video and eye-witness testimony evidences that Billmeyer did disclose. Even if he hadn’t, it seems that the jail’s policies would have still required his hospitalization. Another symptom that indicates an arrested person is “not fit for confinement,” per the policy, is the “inability to stand or walk.” While Billmeyer was being arrested, his mother and his sister observed that he could not stand up on his own, they told Filter in June.
People like Billmeyer should not be “be received into or detained in the jail facility,” and instead should be “transported to a local emergency room for examination,” states the policy. That didn’t happen.
Per Carmen Billmeyer’s complaint, officials’ negligence constituted cruel and unusual punishment and a failure of the jail’s medical professionals to “satisfy the applicable standards of care.” She is now demanding “actual and punitive damages” for her “pain and suffering,” among other things, related to her son’s “preventable” death.
But for her, it’s not about compensation.
“We’re not in it for the money. We want answers,” she said. “My life has gone ka-pooey because of it. I have been seeing a psychiatrist. I can’t sleep at night. It’s just been horrible.”
Photograph of Dubuque County Sheriff Joe Kennedy in 2017 by Dubuque County Sheriff’s Office via Facebook