With what we know about health care at the Dallas jail, I'd bet dollars to donuts Price is wrong the county will be "vindicated" on appeal. A report (pdf) from the feds issued this spring found some improvements, but overall said many of the same problems described in Mr. Shepherd's suit are still happening.
A federal court jury ordered Dallas County on Tuesday to pay $900,000 to a former Dallas County jail inmate for denying him proper medical care while he was in custody.
The jury found that Stanley Shepherd's constitutional rights were violated when he was denied basic medical care while in the Lew Sterrett Justice Center on burglary and drug charges in late 2003.
Jurors in the weeklong trial issued their verdict Tuesday morning after deliberating since about 1 p.m. Monday, said Don Tittle, the attorney for Mr. Shepherd. If lawyers' fees and interest are granted, the county could have to pay more than $1 million, he said.
Commissioner John Wiley Price, who has spearheaded recent jail improvements and who voted against contracting out jail health in 2002, said he disagreed with the verdict.
"We will appeal the case. We are going to be vindicated on appeal," he said.
Tuesday's verdict is significant for two reasons, Mr. Tittle said. First, it's the largest jury verdict over a jail-neglect suit against Dallas County. And second, the verdict is an indictment of the county's entire jail-health system instead of one or several isolated cases, he said. In legal terms, that means the jail's "general conditions of confinement" led to the damage suffered.
"It's a finding that they failed to meet the basic essential needs of an inmate" because of systemic problems, Mr. Tittle said.
Mr. Shepherd, 51, who testified during the trial, entered the jail in October 2003 on a burglary and drug charge and suffered the stroke in January 2004. In the seven weeks before his stroke, he received little or no treatment or medication despite high blood- pressure readings, Mr. Tittle said. Mr. Shepherd told the jail staff about his blood pressure medication upon being booked into the jail, the suit said.
He was taken to Parkland Memorial Hospital almost an hour after he was found on the floor of his cell, according to the lawsuit.
The charges against Mr. Shepherd were later dismissed.
Mr. Shepherd, who filed his federal lawsuit in 2005, uses a wheelchair and is paralyzed on his left side, Mr. Tittle said. He can only eat soft foods; his speech, hearing and sight are impaired; he is impotent and suffers from depression; and his wife must help him with everyday activities, the suit said.
Indeed, given the details of the plaintiff's case and the clear culpability of the county, Mr. Price and the Commissioners Court might be better served spending money to improve jail health care instead of on appellate lawyers. When he makes comments like that it leads me to believe he's not serious about acknowledging or fixing the jail's problems.
To be honest, $1 million sounds like an awfully cheap payout considering what happened to this fellow and the permanent disabilities that resulted. How hard would it have been just to give him his high-blood pressure medicine, which was in the Sheriff's possession?
Plus, it's not like this is the first time this happened. As mentioned, last year Dallas County was ordered to pay damages for failing to provide adequate healthcare to three other plaintiffs; again from the Dallas News:
The only reasons jail health won't be more of an issue in the hotly contested Dallas Sheriff's election are that it's unclear what if anything the GOP candidate might do differently, plus so much blame goes to the county commissioners court for failing to adequately fund jail health over the long haul.
Tuesday's verdict – if intact after the county's appeal – will be the second six-figure payout in two years related to the jail's well-publicized problems in providing health care to its jail population.
In February 2007, commissioners agreed to pay $950,000 to the families of three mentally ill former inmates, one of whom died, to settle their civil rights lawsuit over jail medical care.
James Monroe Mims didn't get his medication for two months and nearly died after water to his cell was shut off for two weeks. Clarence Lee Grant Jr. died in his jail cell in 2003 after he did not receive any medicine for five days. And Kennedy Nickerson was found lying sick in the street after being released from the jail without medication or notice to his family.
Several scathing reports have criticized medical care in the Dallas County jail system, and the jails haven't met state standards since 2003.
Dallas County is presently in the midst of a self-manufactured budget crisis. The Commissioners Court has declared it won't raise taxes, then used the resulting projected shortfall to justify draconian cuts, mostly affecting services provided to the poorest among us. So unfortunately, in that context, major civil verdicts against the county may be the only way to get the Commissioners Court's attention and focus more resources on jail health on the front end.
UPDATE: Robert Guest adds that this is why Dallas should not be "using their jail to incarcerate those with outstanding traffic fines," noting that "To fill the coffers, Dallas launched the ill conceived "Operation Pay or Stay" program. The result is that one of the most dangerous jails in Texas, is now being used a debtor's prison." "Tarrant County has already had a traffic ticket arrest turn into a death sentence, wrote Guest. "It is only a matter of time before Dallas experiences a similar tragedy."