Families Sue Alabama County After Loved Ones Die While in Jail Awaiting Trial
In egregious cases of brutal mistreatment, three inmates at the Madison County jail in Alabama were allowed to die last year while awaiting trial, suffering from such easily treatable ailments as alcohol withdrawal, constipation and gangrene. Now their families have filed a lawsuit against the county and the private company hired to provide inmates with medical care, accusing them of denying care to save money.
“What connects them all is that all of these people were in the medical-watch area, supposedly under the care of nurses,” their attorney, Hank Sherrod, told CNN.
The suit names Madison County, the jail and the company, Advanced Correctional Healthcare Inc. The suit accuses the county and ACH of reaching a “deliberately indifferent” agreement to delay or deny care as a cost-saving measure.
ACH “staffed the Madison County Jail inadequately, hired substandard medical personnel willing to put cost over inmate health and safety, denied inmates medications and delayed or denied medically necessary referrals to outside providers,” all with the county’s consent, the suit says, according to CNN.
“Advanced Correctional Healthcare is pleased to have the opportunity to deliver a high standard of health care for Madison County Jail patients while partnering with Madison County to address the need to provide quality healthcare within its budget. ACH will not try its cases in the (media),” ACH responded in a statement from spokesman JD Dalfonso.
“Although the almost instantaneous and continual flow of information arguably calls for a more substantive response, I believe it remains wise to reserve comment and let the litigation process run its course,” Madison County Attorney Jeff Rich said in an e-mail.
One of the most disturbing cases involves 19-year-old Deundrez Woods of Huntsville, who died in August 2013, two months after he had been arrested and jailed on shoplifting and third-degree assault charges.
The lawsuit says Woods was moved to the jail’s medical unit because he “was confused, hallucinating and unable to communicate with correction and medical personnel,” according to jail records.
“They just watched him,” Sherrod said. “They were happy to let him lie there … totally indifferent to what was really going on.”
The lawsuit says Woods died 15 days later of a blood clot originating in his gangrenous foot. The suit says the odor emanating from his foot was so foul on Aug. 17 that guards “dragged Woods from his cell to the shower, sprayed him with water and then placed him, still naked, in a different cell.”
“Jail records affirmatively show Woods did not eat from August 14-19 and that as of August 12, Woods’ water supply was cut off,” the lawsuit states. “Jail records also show Woods was naked during this period.”
After Aug. 14, no ACH nurse entered Woods’ cell until Aug. 19, the day he died, the suit alleges.
His mother Tanyatta Woods couldn’t believe the claims that her son, a former high school football player and heavyweight wrestler, had stopped eating.
“He was a big boy. He liked to eat,” she said, telling CNN that when she needs her spirits lifted, she goes to the restaurant where she and Deundrez shared their last meal and he put down “$50 worth of Mexican food.”
When she asked court and jail officials why he was in a wheelchair, she said they cited patient privacy laws. Woods has a nursing and pharmaceutical license and told CNN she didn’t buy the story given to her by an official that her son was suffering from mental problems.
“I told them my son didn’t have any mental problems,” she said. “They couldn’t explain to me why he was in a wheelchair.”
She said he seemed confused and unresponsive, his lips were discolored, he was having trouble seeing and he didn’t seem to remember much else besides the name of his 2-year-old son, Jalen.
“I begged them to take him to the hospital,” she said. “They refused.”
She didn’t see her son again until Aug. 19 in the hospital, where he was on life support. She had him taken off life support on Aug. 21.
The other inmates whose families filed suit after they died in the county jail were Nikki Listau, 60, who died of alcohol withdrawal, and Tanisha Jefferson, 30, who died of “an extended period of constipation” after warning officials for weeks that she couldn’t move her bowels.