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Originally published Tuesday, July 7, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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U.S. pays $880,000 in death of detained antiquities expert

The federal government has agreed to pay $880,000 to settle a lawsuit filed over the death of Roxanna Brown, a prominent Asian-antiquities expert who died last year while being held at the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac.

Seattle Times staff reporter

The federal government has agreed to pay $880,000 to settle a lawsuit filed over the death of Roxanna Brown, an Asian-antiquities expert who died last year while being held at the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac.

The lawsuit, which alleged medical malpractice among other claims, was filed last year by Brown's son, Taweesin Jaime Ngerntongdee, after the 62-year-old woman died from peritonitis, an infection and inflammation of the stomach and intestines resulting from an untreated perforated gastric ulcer.

Brown, who was the director of the Southeast Asian Ceramics Museum at Bangkok University in Thailand, was arrested in Seattle on May 9, 2008, on a wire-fraud indictment out of Los Angeles, where federal prosecutors were overseeing a massive art-fraud investigation.

She had flown to Seattle from Bangkok to lecture at an Asian art symposium at the University of Washington.

Brown, according to court documents, became ill shortly after her arrest, suffering from flu-like symptoms that forced her to miss one court appearance and call short another.

Over the next several days she became so ill that other inmates asked the guards to help, according to the complaint, but was never taken to see a doctor.

The other inmates say they had to help her to the shower and, in the hours before she died, some became "so frightened and concerned for her they began praying for her," according to the complaint.

She died in the early morning of May 14. Detention-center officials have acknowledged that there was no overnight medical staff on duty.

The government took the case to mediation last month and, after negotiations, agreed to pay the settlement in exchange for the dismissal of all claims, including civil-rights allegations, according to court records.

Ngerntongdee's Seattle lawyer, Tim Ford, said the driving issue in mediation was a claim alleging medical malpractice.

While the government admits no liability in settlement documents, Emily Langlie, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Seattle, said that "Ms. Brown's death was the result of a series of unfortunate events which we regret."

"We decided it would be in the best interests of the government to resolve this case and we worked cooperatively with Ms. Brown's family to reach this settlement," she said.

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Ford said a crucial aspect of the settlement was a promise by the Bureau of Prisons that it would complete a mortality investigation into Brown's death.

Maggie Ogden, an attorney at the SeaTac detention center, said the review has not been completed.

"We're going to be watching with real interest," Ford said.

The settlement also includes a clause stating that Ford would receive no more than 25 percent of the settlement as attorney's fees, with the remainder going to his client.

According to published accounts of her life, Brown traveled to Vietnam in 1969 after graduating from Columbia University, where she had studied journalism.

She was 22 at the time and became one of the youngest credentialed journalists covering the war.

In 1977, she published her first book, "The Ceramics of South East Asia: Their Dating and Identification," which was considered one of the pre-eminent publications in the field.

The wire-fraud count alleged that Brown allowed her electronic signature to be used on fraudulent appraisal forms of art donated to museums for tax write-offs.

Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or mcarter@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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