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Former Cooper County Sheriff’s Office lieutenant, deputy charged with manslaughter in jail inmate death


A lieutenant and a deputy who worked in the Cooper County Sheriff's Office were charged Wednesday with manslaughter in the October death of an inmate from untreated diabetes.

Robyn Pfeiffer, 29, of Boonville, was charged Wednesday in Cooper County with involuntary manslaughter in the death of Brooke Bailey of Jefferson City. Bailey was found dead Oct. 27 in her cell with blood and vomit on the floor and on her clothing.

Pfeiffer was a lieutenant and jail supervisor at the time. Cooper County Sheriff Chris Class said Thursday that she no longer works for the office.

Special prosecutors with the Jackson County Prosecutor's Office also filed an involuntary manslaughter charge against Rachel Atherton, 34, who is listed as a court deputy on the Cooper County Sheriff's Office website. Class said Atherton no longer works for the office, either.

Both Atherton and Pfeiffer are accused of failing to get Bailey medical help and telling others not to do so, according to the complaints filed against them.

Bailey's family said they have been waiting on these charges for months now, and hope it prevents these types of situation from happening in the future.

"You don't think it's ever going to get here, but this time it has," Bailey's father, Scott Bruns, said. "Hopefully that makes some differences in more than just my daughter's life."

Charging documents say several jail workers told investigators with the Pettis County Sheriff's Office that Pfeiffer brushed off Bailey's complaints of feeling ill, saying the inmate was "playing games." Co-workers also said Pfeiffer joked about the death and instructed them not to write notes so investigators would be deprived of information, according to a probable cause statement.

A medical examiner found Bailey died from diabetic ketoacidosis and low sodium levels. Bailey had told staff when she was booked that she had diabetes, along with other conditions. The probable cause statement says Bailey did not receive treatment when she complained of feeling ill and she became verbally nonresponsive to jailers.

"This stuff changes people's lives, and it ends people's lives," Bailey's daughter, Paige Bailey-Folker, said. "Nobody should be treated with the disrespect that my mom was treated with."

A warrant was issued for Pfeiffer and Atherton's arrests Thursday with a $7,500 bond. They did not appear on the jail roster Thursday afternoon.

"The Jackson County Prosecutor's Office accepted a request to be special prosecutor regarding the death of Brooke Bailey, a detainee in the Cooper County jail in October 2023," a press release from the Jackson County Prosecutor's Office says. "Our office has been in communication with the victim's family. We will pursue justice in this case on behalf of the victim and her family."

If the Pfeiffer and Atherton are found guilty, the Jackson County Prosecutor says they could serve anywhere from three-to-10 years in prison and be fined up to $10,000.

Bailey's family said they are appreciative of the Jackson County prosecutor's work to get to this point and they are now one step closer to justice.

"There is no sentence long enough to make our hearts fully happy," Bailey-Folker said. "What would make us happy was for her to be here still and we can't get that back."

The Cooper County Sheriff's Office made a statement about the case on their social media.

"On October 27, 2023, an inmate was found deceased in a holding cell at the Cooper County Detention Center. The Pettis County Sheriff’s Office was contacted by me and requested to investigate the death of the inmate. Once the investigation was complete, the information was transferred from the Cooper County Prosecutor’s Office to the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office for review due to a conflict of interest," the post reads. "On 2/29/2024, The Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office filed formal charges on 2 former employees in connection with the death. At this point in time, I will not comment further on this incident due to the pending criminal cases."

The probable cause statement states Bailey was originally supposed to spend time at the Missouri Department of Mental Health, but was staying in the Cooper County Jail until a bed became available.

Bailey-Folker said she hopes this situation opens people's eyes to the way people with mental health issues are treated.

"We're all human at the end of the day," Bailey-Folker said. "It doesn't take that much to help somebody or be nice to somebody that maybe is having a bad day."

ABC 17 News spoke with Mid-Missouri attorney Matt Uhrig who has been practicing law for 23 years. His law firm specializes in personal injury and wrongful death cases. 

Uhrig said the Department of Mental Health hold was likely because there had been some sort of determination that Bailey was not competent to proceed in the criminal case that was pending in Cooper County. The criminal case she had in Cooper County was for low-level tampering with a motor vehicle charge from 2021, Uhrig said. 

“I think that it is a rare instance. I’ve never seen a case where jailers were actually charged for failing to provide medical care,” Urhig said. 

For the prosecution to succeed, it would have to prove that the jailers acted recklessly and that their recklessness was the cause of Bailey’s death, according to Urhig.

Uhrig says that Bailey’s family also has the right to file a civil rights lawsuit. He says the family could argue that her Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment when she is in the custody of the state was violated. A civil lawyer would have to prove deliberate indifference. According to Uhrig to do that they would need to show that the jailers’ conduct caused Bailey to suffer unnecessary pain. 

“First of all she was there because she was not competent,” Uhrig said “She was suffering from some pretty profound mental health issues and secondly she was a diabetic.”

Court documents allege Bailey had complications from diabetes, and that Pfeiffer and Atherton were aware Bailey was a diabetic, and she numerous requests to be seen by a doctor, and jailors refused to provide her care. 

“There are statements in here [Probable Cause Statment] indicating she did not move for extended periods of time from her cot, that she was laying in her own vomit and that other inmates were notifying the jailors, letting them know she needed medical care,” Uhrig said.

Article Topic Follows: Crime

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Matthew Sanders

Matthew Sanders is the digital content director at ABC 17 News.

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Mitchell Kaminski

Mitchell Kaminski is from Wheaton, Illinois. He earned a degree in sports communication and journalism from Bradley University. He has done radio play-by-play and co-hosts a Chicago White Sox podcast.

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Morgan Buresh

Morgan is an evening anchor and reporter who came to ABC 17 News in April 2023.


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