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Former Lee County Inmate Sues Jail


A former inmate in the Lee County Jail has filed a federal lawsuit, claiming his civil rights were violated during a portion of his roughly ten-month incarceration.

Craig Rockenbach’s lawsuit names the Lee County Jail, Correctional Healthcare Companies (former health care provider at the jail), Captain John Farmer (former jail administrator who retired in 2016), and Rachel Sturms (CHC Nurse) as defendants.

Rockenbach's lawsuit started out as a handwritten prisoner complaint he filed in late 2016 for violation of civil rights. The website for the Iowa Department of Corrections states that Rockenbach is currently serving a five-year prison sentence in the 6th Judicial District on the charge of Habitual Offender.

In that initial, handwritten complaint, he alleges that he was not provided proper medical care while incarcerated in the Lee County Jail from May 2015-March 2016.

  • “1. Lee Co. Jail confined me almost an entire year without proper health care.
  • 2. CHC denyed (sic) me access to perscribed (sic) medication and 24 hour care.
  • 3. Captain John Farmer (previous jailer) confined me in isolation away from any form of contact for help & even blocked me from a court hearing.”

Rockenbach continued in that initial, handwritten complaint, claiming that he and another inmate attempted to file grievances over their medical care, but were denied.
“We attempted to utalize (sic) the grivence (sic) procedure and I was forced to contact Disability Rights Iowa regarding the jail and medical provider CHC. In my case, I was denied proper care, medication and confined for causing in investigation on Lee County Jail… I could have died also since Captain Farmer locked me away naked in water for weeks without meds, contact to a nurse/doctor during what other officers seen to be emergencies & no drinking water,” wrote Rockenbach.

Court records show that his complaint was reviewed by U.S. District Judge Rebecca Edinger. She ruled on May 1, 2017 that Rockenbach’s claim should be allowed to move forward.

“The Court finds the nature of the allegations in this case warrants appointment of counsel. [Rockenbach’s] request for counsel is granted. The Clerk of Court is directed to find counsel to represent Rockenbach.”

The formal lawsuit, filed June 27, 2017, provides more details regarding Rockenbach’s claims.

It states that Rockenbach entered the jail in May 2015 but did not start having problems receiving his medications until the fall of that year.

“That Plaintiff alleges that the nurse working for CHC, Defendant Rachel Sturms, at the Lee County Jail would miss work often and did not order or set up medication for inmates. That Plaintiff further alleges that Defendant CHC nurses were unresponsive to medical emergencies and that Defendant Captain John Farmer was similarly unresponsive. That due to Plaintiff’s inadequate access to his prescribed medications and medical care, he suffered severe consequences, what at one point required him to be transported to the Emergency Room in Fort Madison.”

Rockenbach claims he was targeted by the defendants and other correctional officers at the Lee County Jail after filing grievances and seeking assistance from the organization Disability Rights Iowa.

“That on one occasion after Plaintiff filed his complaints with Disability Rights Iowa, Plaintiff complained about the medical care at the Lee County Jail to a correctional officer, to which the correctional officer responded by stating that the investigation could lead to the loss of their jobs. Correctional Officers then proceeded to chase Plaintiff with tasers at the top level of the jail, which frightened Plaintiff and caused him to jump from the top tier to the bottom tier of the Lee County Jail, resulting in permanent injury to Plaintiff.

“That after Plaintiff became injured after jumping off the top tier of the Lee County Jail to avoid being tased, Plaintiff was taken to the emergency room. That Plaintiff now suffers permanent injury as a result of the jump.”

Rockenbach said after his return from the emergency room, he was placed in solitary confinement:

“...where he was locked in a wet cell full of sewer water, naked, without a mattress and without receiving medical care or his prescribed medication. That on several occasions, Plaintiff requested his prescribed medications, but was not given any. That Plaintiff, while in solitary confinement, did not have access to drinkable water and was unable to flush his toilet. That the sewer water on the floor caused the ground to become slick, which caused Plaintiff to fall and repeatedly injure himself.”

Rockenbach said he lived in these conditions for several days before being taken to another solitary cell. And that while he was in solitary confinement a hearing was held to have him civilly committed, without his knowledge.

Rockenbach said during his time in the Lee County Jail, he suffered numerous injuries including neurological damage, impaired eyesight, back and leg injuries, nerve loss, and severe reactions due to sudden withdrawal of medication.

He is seeking an undisclosed amount of money as compensation, stating in his initial complaint, “I am in all rights to demand millions of dollars. The basis for the ammounts (sic) decided would be that when Iowa Code is broken and someone is a victim, the violator must pay for the damages resulting from breaking those laws.”

Rockenbach has requested a jury trial.

Jason Parrott is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.