Sunday, October 19, 2014

Deaths in Madison County jail a sign of rank mismanagement

Huntsville, AL. – The website and Huntsville Times reported on October 17, 2014 that three people locked up in Madison County Jail died needlessly because the jail staff made no attempt to save them from hideous, life-threatening diseases – all of which are curable with basic medical treatment.

Two of the dead people are black and one is white.

The article itself is appalling, in that the author, a reporter named Challen Stephens, refers to these people as “small-time criminals," as if they are less than human.

Civil rights attorney Hank Sherrod, of Florence, AL., is spearheading the legal fight to hold the jail accountable.

In three separate lawsuits, Sherrod has alleged that each person died needlessly because the Madison County jail routinely denies people incarcerated in their facility basic medical care in order to save money, banking on the insurance of the medical contractor to cover any resulting lawsuits.

The first victim is Deundrez Woods, a 19-year-old from Huntsville. He was arrested for shoplifting Star Wars DVDs at Wal-Mart in June of 2013. That’s a minor charge. It’s punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine. He cut his foot in jail – which is a cesspool of germs and bacteria – and his foot became gangrenous and he died. After he began complaining of the severe pain and swelling from gangrene, the jail staff took him to the medical unit where, according to the lawsuit, he wasn’t given even food and water, much less medical treatment. 

Gangrene is a rotting of human flesh due to lack of circulation. It stinks to high hell, and when Woods began to stink because he was rotting alive, the guards simply hosed him off with water.

The complaint alleges that “no correction officer or ACH nurse did anything to even check Woods, let alone help him.”

Woods' lawsuit further alleges that Madison County Sherrif Blake Dorning and his jail administrator Steve Morrison are complicit with Dr. Arthur Williams, the director of medical care at the jail, and Dr. Norman Johnson, who is the CEO of Advanced Correctional Healthcare, in “an explicit or implicit agreement or plan to delay or deny necessary medical care to avoid having to pay for medical care."

The second person to die in jail was Tanisha Jefferson. She was 30 years old. She was arrested at her home on Oct. 14, 2013 and charged with harassment. Harassment is punishable by a year in jail and a fine and is a minor charge.

Jefferson died in the Madison County jail on Oct. 31, 2013 when her bowel became obstructed. In short, she had a blockage in her intestines and her insides exploded inside her. The lawsuit asserts that Johnson had been constipated for 13 days. When she began to complain of abdominal pain, the jail denied her medical care.

She begged and pleaded for help for 13 days and was ignored. The complaint filed by Sherrod says Jefferson asked repeatedly to see a doctor and filed a medical grievance on Oct. 25. She reported that she’d been sick for nearly two weeks without treatment.

Jefferson finally saw Williams on Oct. 29. The suit alleges he ignored what are commonly understood symptoms of a severe medical condition, including acute abdominal and rectal pain and vomiting.

Williams, instead of sending Jefferson to the hospital, sent her back to her cell to die, which she did on Oct. 31.

The third person to die was 61-year-old Nikki Listau. She broke her ribs and her leg when she fell out of her bunk while detoxing in the jail. She was arrested on March 10 and charged with harassing communications, which is punishable by three months in jail and a fine and is also a minor charge.

All three of these people who died weren’t dangerous people. They weren’t, as the reporter claims, “small-time criminals.” They were human beings. They suffered the death penalty in a jail owned by the taxpayers of Madison County. The taxpayers are footing the bill for the jail, from its operation to any lawsuit settlements paid out by the jail for these deaths.

The law requires a person who is incarcerated to receive medical care.

As is their practice when they’re sued, the Madison County jail administrators hide behind Jeff Rich, Madison County’s attorney. He then recites the oft-stated mantra that the county does not comment on pending litigation. Rich said the three lawsuits are "being vigorously defended."

Duh. Really? How about fix the problem.

I’ve tangled with Mr. Rich before. I had a client who was a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic. He was placed in the jail and denied his anti-psychotic medicines for weeks. His mental state deteriorated to the point where he was hallucinating and violent. Instead of listening to his mother, who had his meds and presented them to the jail, and instead of listening to me when I told them the meds would make him calm, the jail chose to strap him into a chair and at various times hit and taze him.

I filed a motion for the trial judge to order the jail to give him his medicine. The Madison County District Attorney’s office, and Assistant District Attorneys Thomas Glover and Jay Town, immediately agreed with my motion that my client should be provided his medications.

Rich came to court and said the judge had no authority to tell the jail to medicate my client and then haughtily told me that if I wanted the client medicated I should file a lawsuit in federal court. I asked him, “You’d rather me sue you in federal court, which takes months and months, than just give a sick man his medicine?”

I don’t know what happened, but the next day the client was suddenly placed on his meds.

We know the jail has problems.

Recently I wrote a blog about the scabies epidemic at the jail, which the jail pretends does not exist. When asked by reporters for the Huntsville Times about the problem, the jail administrator issued a catty remark and dismissed the reporter.

The Madison County Jail is not prison. Jails house people awaiting trial who are too poor to make bond and people who’ve been convicted of minor offenses. The poor get stuck in jail. The middle class and the rich make bond. Thus, it's poor people who are likely to die in Madison County jail.

No one should die in a county jail. Ever. One death is too many. Three deaths point to a systemic failure and rank mismanagement. 

Required by Alabama law: These recoveries and testimonials are not an indication of future results. Every case is different, and regardless of what friends, family, or other individuals may say about what a case is worth, each case must be evaluated on its own facts and circumstances as they apply to the law. The valuation of a case depends on the facts, the injuries, the jurisdiction, the venue, the witnesses, the parties, and the testimony, among other factors. Furthermore,,no representation is made that the quality of legal services to be performed is greater than the services of other lawyers.