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Updated: Federal Judge Hears Motions in CVRJ Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Posted: Updated:
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) -

A federal judge in Charlottesville is considering a request from attorneys involved in the wrongful death lawsuit of an inmate.

Sherry Lynn Thornhill claims her son, 37-year-old Shawn Christopher Berry, died just over 48 hours after he arrived at the Central Virginia Regional Jail (CVRJ).

Berry was arrested in Orange County on August 7, 2014, on drug and fraud charges across Virginia and Maryland.

Thornhill's lawsuit alleges CVRJ did not follow special procedures for treating inmates. The mother claims the jail and its staff showed "deliberate indifference" to Berry's withdrawal from heroin and alcohol.

According to the lawsuit, Berry suffered in pain and delirium for more than 12 hours before he died on his jail cell floor, with blood pouring from his mouth and nose.

Former jail Superintendent Glenn Aylor, CVRJ Authority, and others who work at the jail are named as defendants in the lawsuit.

Tuesday, May 16, the defense asked the judge to dismiss the lawsuit. Attorneys sited sovereign immunity, which shields the state and its employees from liability lawsuits.

“The General Assembly created a law that mandates the sheriffs - who are constitutional officers from each locality - serve on the Central Virginia [Regional] Jail authority, and they have sovereign immunity. Therefore, it should transfer to the jail authority as well. I think the jail authorities are a completely different situation, and completely different authority than all the ones the other attorney presented today,” said CVRJ Board Chairman Troy Wade.

The jail's attorney requested a judge ask the Virginia Supreme Court to decide whether sovereign immunity applies to CVRJ.

Thornhill’s legal team argued in court that waiting for a decision from the justices would delay the case and add up expenses.

The mother is asking for $10 million in damages, and wants to see the federal government take over the jail until it can ensure inmates receive proper medical treatment.

Her lawsuit also includes stories from three other inmates and a former EMT who described an attitude within the jail that prisoners were, "scum".

The federal judge is not expected to make a decision on the defense's request for a couple of weeks.

A jury trial is scheduled for November 6.