Thursday, November 18, 2004

Negligence, Death Expose Ugly Jail Problems

It's an awfully rough time to be a Texas county jail inmate, but hopefully there's rough times-a-comin' for some Dallas and Williamson County jailers. Be forewarned, it's hard to read these stories, but harder still to read them without concluding something's terribly, horribly wrong with what's going on at these county jails.

The Dallas News reported today on the case of James Mim, who nearly died after being denied water for two weeks in isolation in April.

Here's the News' description of how Mim entered the Parkland Hospital emergency room:
"He had the symptoms of someone lost in the desert for two weeks, found just hours before his last dry gasp. Sodium levels sky-high. Thick, toxic gunk in his blood quickly choking him to death. Kidneys shut down, exhausted. His clothes smelled of sewage. Sores on his side spoke of days lying in virtual paralysis. He was semiconscious and incoherent.
Mim is mentally ill, diagnosed extremely psychotic. He was charged with shooting two officers 26 years ago, but was never tried because of his mental impairment. He lives at Terrell State Hospital, but once a year is taken to the County Jail so the judge can renew the order for his forced hospitalization. This time, they just forgot about him. Reporter Randy Loftis promises part two of his so-far-excellent story this weekend.

I'll admit, I haven't wrapped my mind entirely around the many grotesque implications of what happened to James Mim, considered in its totality. They are immense. I'd encourage you to read the story, though, and while you do, consider that, according to House Corrections Committee Chairman Ray Allen, 16% of Texas' 155,000 prison inmates are mentally ill, and the Texas criminal justice system is the largest mental health provider in the world.

What word to use besides "warehousing"? Perhaps "extreme negligence"? "Callous disregard"?

In Williamson County, family members of the deceased suspect more nefarious than negligent behavior in the death of Timothy Brown, the Statesman reported yesterday. Deputies claim he died after falling two feet from his bunk bed to the floor, hitting his head. If your kid hands you a story that outrageous, parents know, you're almost tempted to believe her because it seems so unlikely she'd come up with a lie so ridiculous. But all the other evidence points to foul play. Reported the Statesman:
"Georgiana Brown said when she visited her ex-husband in the hospital Sunday he was covered in bruises, and doctors told her that Brown's brain stem had been badly damaged.

"'I just don't think a lot of what (the deputies) are saying is kosher,' Brown said. 'I was married to him for 17 years, and he was a mouthy little rascal. At times, he could get under your skin to the point you wanted to grab him and shake . . . him.'

"[Sheriff's detective John] Foster said Brown had not been beaten by guards or other inmates. He said that Brown was alone in his infirmary cell and that staff had checked on him every 15 minutes.

"'Any time an inmate is injured, it is something we take seriously,' he said. 'No matter what the inmate has done, he has family members that love him. They are going to be asking questions, and they have a right to answers. To the best of our knowledge, pending the autopsy, it looks like we did everything asked of us and beyond to take care of this man.'"
Huh? If that were true, you'd think he'd be alive, wouldn't you?
"Brown's family members said he was out of a job and was an alcoholic, but seemed relatively healthy before he went to jail.

"Brown's stepson, 23-year-old Daniel Rice, said when he saw Brown at the hospital Sunday, he had a cut across the top of his head, an injury on the side of his head, two black eyes and a bruise on his chest.

"'It looked like somebody hit him with a pipe or something,' he said.

"Rice said doctors did not explain the bruises."
Well, somebody's got some explaining to do.

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