In Potter County (Amarillo), a double murder suspect hung himself in the jail recently, and more troubling, a mentally ill probation revokee died after two use of force incidents, apparently spending at least two to three days in what a doctor said would have been excruciating pain leading up to his death without receiving proper medical attention. Reported the Amarillo Globe News ("Potter Sheriff defends lockup," July 24):
An Amarillo police lieutenant told a TV station, "we know that there was force used on him two different times and we know that injuries can linger, but we were told it wasn't an injury caused by assault but medically, but we are still investigating." Whether Dick's death resulted from injuries at the hands of officers or a pre-existing medical condition that jailers ignored, the county jail is still on the hook.
Michael Lee Dick, 33, was found dead in an isolation cell Saturday during a routine check. A preliminary autopsy Tuesday revealed he died of peritonitis caused by a perforated ulcer that could have caused severe pain in the hours leading up to his death.
The condition is irritating and can cause excruciating abdominal pain, said Dr. Kuldip Banwait, a gastroenterologist with Amarillo Endoscopy Center.
Jail staff is required to check inmates at least every 30 minutes, Boyter said, and Dick was on a 10-minute watch.
"As far as I know, he really didn't show any signs of medical problems," Boyter said.
The first time an officer checked on Dick in the isolation cell he was fine and sitting on the bed, Boyter said. He was lying on the bed 10 minutes later, so the officer went into his cell and found him unresponsive.
Banwait said peritonitis is an inflammation of the lining of the abdominal cavity. The lining supports abdominal organs and serves as a conduit for their blood vessels. He said someone suffering from peritonitis could die quickly.
"It depends on how young the person is," Banwait said. "It could be two to three days if not treated."
We still haven't learned much about the recent death of a 21-year old woman in the Travis County jail.
Meanwhile, in East Texas we find a case where a woman being held pretrial on a drug case in Henderson County was released on personal bond, driven immediately to the hospital and left there where she died eight days later. Reported the Athens Review:
Henderson County Sheriff Ronny Brownlow on Wednesday responded publicly about allegations he is retiring early in connection to the death investigation of a former county jail inmate. ... The 10-year sheriff said Wednesday that his plan to retire dates back at least until last fall, when he began serious discussions about it with those close to him.Maybe there was "no conspiracy," but clearly the patient did not receive "adequate health care." She was in her death throes already when they released her on personal bond after two months in jail to take her to hospital. Surely it was clear she needed significant medical care well before that panicked, last-ditch decision!
Brownlow sent a letter to county officials earlier this month informing them of his intention to step down from office on July 31 — roughly five months before the official end of his term. The letter is dated July 8.
The announcement came during a time when information regarding the death of 56-year-old Debra Lee Newton began to surface. Newton was arrested on a charge of possession of a controlled substance on Feb. 18. Sometime in April, she allegedly became ill while incarcerated in the Henderson County Jail.
On April 25, the sheriff’s department asked that Newton be released on a personal recognizance bond. That request was granted, and Newton was taken to East Texas Medical Center Athens. She died eight days later, on May 3 — prompting allegations of impropriety on the part of sheriff’s department officials in their handling of Newton.
Henderson County District Attorney Donna Bennett’s office subsequently asked the Texas Rangers to investigate the circumstances of the death. That investigation is ongoing with Athens-based Ranger Trace McDonald. Lt. Pat McWilliams, a public relations officer, said the sheriff’s department welcomes the investigation.
“... We’re certain there’s no conspiracy and that the patient received adequate medical treatment,” McWilliams said last week.
At a time when the Texas Commission on Jail Standards is undergoing Sunset review, this news makes me wonder whether the state's inspections adequately assess county jails' healthcare delivery or even track the number and causes of jail deaths. That's a lot of deaths recently attributed to inadequate jail medical care. Will it just be tolerated?