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Daughter of woman who died after being found beaten in Whiteclay sues for negligence

Sherry Wounded Foot

Wounded Foot

The daughter of a Porcupine woman who died in 2016 after being found beaten in Whiteclay, Neb., is suing the federal government government, alleging that Pine Ridge-based ambulance and hospital staff were negligent by failing to recognize that the woman had a serious head injury that needed immediate treatment. 

Sherry Wounded Foot, a mother of three, died at the age of 50 on Aug. 17, 2016, 12 days after she was found in Whiteclay.

No one has been arrested for her beating death, but her case remains under investigation by the Nebraska State Patrol and is also a priority of the Oglala Sioux Tribe's police department, said Sheridan County Sheriff Jeff Brewer. 

Sandra Wounded Foot Graham, Sherry's daughter, filed the federal lawsuit last week after administrative complaints against the U.S. government and its agencies were rejected. The lawsuit says the information about how Wounded Foot was diagnosed and treated comes from medical records. Graham is represented by Robin Zephier, a Rapid City-based attorney, and requesting a jury determine how much money she is owed to cover actual and emotional expenses. She said medical, funeral and memorial costs were more than $100,000. 

Wounded Foot was found beaten and unconscious behind a building in Whiteclay on Aug. 5, 2016, according to news reports from the time. An ambulance from the Oglala Sioux Tribe responded around 9:45 a.m. but the medics failed to properly diagnose and triage Wounded Foot, because while they examined her, they didn't note any obvious trauma even though she had blood and bruises on her body, the lawsuit says. 

The ambulance medics "made a determination that no emergency existed, when indeed this was a critical life-threatening situation," before dropping her off at the Indian Health Service emergency room in Pine Ridge around 10:05 a.m., the lawsuit says. 

An emergency room nurse who examined and treated Wounded Foot described her as "unresponsive" but said she moved when an IV was inserted, the lawsuit says. The nurse also noted that Wounded Foot had been drinking for three days. The nurse gave her oxygen and other treatment as her condition began to regress. 

After Wounded Foot had a seizure, hospital staff called Rapid City Regional Hospital for help, but Regional staff said they could only accept her if she had a CAT Scan, according to the lawsuit. At 12:09 p.m., two hours after she arrived at the hospital, Wounded Foot was given the scan and doctors found she had bleeding inside her head and needed immediate surgery. 

The Pine Ridge hospital has a history of not ordering CAT Scans because they are poorly trained and don't want to pay for them, the lawsuit alleges. 

"This type of situation is ongoing, for years, with no learning from previous mistakes and deaths" and is grossly reckless for the hospital's Native American patients, it says. 

A medical helicopter arrived at 1:25 p.m. to take Wounded Foot to Regional Hospital but by then, the delay in diagnosing her serious head injury meant she wasn't treated during the "Golden Hour" when she had the best chance at recovery, the lawsuit says. 

Regional Hospital staff noted that Wounded Foot had bruises on her face and gave her another CT that confirmed that she had bleeding inside her head as well as fractured ribs and fluid, likely blood, inside her abdomen, the lawsuit says. Brain surgery began at 4:42 p.m. and she tolerated the procedure well.

Wounded Foot was in a coma after the surgery and five days later, doctors said she would remain in a coma or die if life support was taken away. Her family decided to bring her back to Pine Ridge IHS for end-of-life car, and Wounded Foot died surrounded by her family on Aug. 17. 

The U.S. government has about two months to respond to the lawsuit. 

— Contact Arielle Zionts at arielle.zionts@rapidcityjournal.com

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