MANSFIELD — Richland County Jail staff did everything it could after Michael P. Reid, a chronic alcoholic, was booked into the facility April 2, 2009, sheriff’s officials said.
But in a 2010 wrongful death lawsuit, set for trial this fall, attorneys for Reid’s estate argue he should have been taken to a hospital — and that the concrete and steel Richland County Jail cell he was placed in for observation was not a safe setting.
The 37-year-old died April 8, 2009 from brain injuries, five days after he after suffered a seizure, cracking his head as he fell. With a federal lawsuit pending, sheriff’s officials were reluctant to comment on the family’s claims.
“I would love to make comments and I would love to tell ‘the rest of the story,’ There’s a whole lot more that people don’t know that they should know,” Sheriff Steve Sheldon said.
Testimony the sheriff and jail staff gave in depositions for the lawsuit provide glimpses:
Under jail policy, inmates with severe life-threatening intoxication or withdrawal were to be taken immediately to MedCentral/Mansfield Hospital, according to officials. But former jail commander Roger Paxton testified the first step was identifying who was truly at risk.
“We would have to actually make sure that that person is an alcoholic. A perfect example, when the AIDS epidemic came out, they were coming through our doors … stating that they were all AIDS victims,” Paxton said. “I mean, you didn’t handle them any differently, but they all thought it was going to be their get-out-of-jail card.”
It sometimes took two or three days to access an inmate’s medical records, Paxton said.
Assigned to watch
Sheriff’s officials testified it was up to the medical director or a jail nurse to assess inmates with potentially serious alcohol withdrawal issues. Then a decision could be made as to whether the inmate should be transferred to the hospital, or administered drugs.
Dr. Kenneth D. Williams, jail medical director at the time Reid died, testified he never met the inmate, and could not remember anyone from the jail calling about his care. Williams told attorneys he went to the jail twice a week for two or three hours.
Dee Fogle, nurse supervisor for the jail, testified the facility generally was staffed with nurses from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., over two shifts. On the overnight shift no nurse was available, except on call, she said.
Dr. Williams testified he was “very concerned” there were no night nurses, especially after the city and county combined their jails and the inmate population increased.
“I mean, when no one is here and something happens and there’s no medical representative — I just don’t think it’s a good idea,” Williams said.
Sheriff Sheldon told attorneys the department was under budget constraints.
If jail officials had an inmate in withdrawal and decided to keep that person in jail, rather than release him or transfer him to MedCentral/Mansfield Hospital, the inmate could be placed under observation with corrections officers checking on him every 20 to 30 minutes, sheriff’s officials testified. The new jail, built in 2008, had an observation cell near book-in, near the corrections officers, Paxton said.
But the officers had not been trained on vital signs, the jail medical director said. And they weren’t trained specifically on recognizing signs and symptoms of alcohol withdrawal other than what they learned in the corrections academy, Paxton testified.
Dr. Williams described the medical protocol for drugs nurses were to administer if alcohol withdrawal occurred.
His standing order called for several drugs and vitamins, including magnesium oxide, thiamine, Zestril (a heart drug), Zantac, Phenergan, Loperamide and Clonidine (a drug used in tapered doses to ease alcohol or opioid withdrawal).
The medical director testified it was safer to wait until an alcoholic showed withdrawal symptoms before using anticonvulsant drugs.
“You may … end up killing them because they have a drug interaction with something they took that you don’t know about,” Williams said.
Eighty percent of people outside of jails can manage withdrawal at home, using doctor-prescribed Librium and someone watching over them, with no complications, Williams said.
If corrections officers had spotted Reid shaking or showing other symptoms, the supervisor would have contacted an on-call nurse, Paxton said.
Still, withdrawal protocol could not have been started overnight for Reid in spring 2009, because several drugs and vitamins on the protocol list weren’t kept on hand, Paxton testified.
“Midnight, there’s no pharmacies open or nothing like that,” the jail commander told attorneys. “The medical staff would have done the assessment in the morning, then pills would have been ordered and delivered during the day.”
At the time Reid’s death occurred, drugs were ordered as needed for specific inmates, through a pharmacy, under doctor’s orders, Paxton said. By the time depositions were taken, five months after Reid’s death, the jail commander said, that process had changed, with some drugs ordered in bulk, others as needed.
Dr. Williams testified Reid’s death was the only such incident that occurred during the 12 years he’d worked there. He also told attorneys the jail’s biggest medical problem was not alcohol withdrawal, but methicillin-resistant MRSA bacteria.
Officials were questioned about why the new jail was designed with an observation area — outfitted with concrete bunks, floors and walls — for inmates at risk.
“They were all just designed the same way,” Paxton said. “If certain people find out that certain areas of the jail are more luxurious or better than other areas, then they attempt to get into those locations. If we had an infirmary where we actually had beds, they would try to get from the bunks that they’re sleeping in now to the infirmary.”
The medical director testified that surfaces in the observation cell weren’t all that different from rooms found in many hospitals. But some options possible within a hospital setting — such as IVs — couldn’t be done at the Richland County Jail, he said.
“We did not have the equipment or 24-hour nursing to monitor it,” Williams said.
Sheldon told attorneys the department was pursuing Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies jail standards. A state jail inspector typically visited at least once a year, and would have made the county aware of any problem, he said.
Fatal fall in jail
Reid, who pleaded guilty to resisting arrest less than a month earlier, was brought to book-in around 8:15 p.m. April 2, 2009. He admitted to probation officers he had consumed alcohol, and was brought in for a misdemeanor probation violation.
When Reid was booked in, corrections staff received several warnings from probation officers, Reid, and his sister that he had a history of seizures during alcohol withdrawal.
At the request of Lt. James Myers, the evening shift jail nurse, Jennifer McCune, assessed him, initially telling jail officials he probably should not be admitted, according to court documents. She said he had a racing pulse, was dehydrated and needed to go to the hospital. After taking his blood pressure, and seeing no immediate signs or symptoms of withdrawal, but not checking the jail’s computer system for his history, she changed her mind and allowed him to stay.
McCune told Reid that when withdrawal began, “we will be there for you,” and she would start him on medication, according to depositions. He was placed in the camera-monitored cell overnight, and McCune left the jail, telling corrections officers to “just keep an eye on him” for symptoms.
Williams later testified medications should have been given “by the first hour” after medical evaluation. A chronic alcoholic with a 0.349 blood-alcohol level and history of alcohol withdrawal seizures wouldn’t necessarily be considered a medical emergency, Paxton testified.
When Dee Fogle, the jail’s nurse supervisor, arrived around 5:15 a.m., she checked the video monitor three times, but left Reid undisturbed, court records show. Around 8:30 a.m., Reid pushed a call buzzer to talk to an officer, then became unsteady and fell into the wall behind him, striking his head on concrete block.
At MedCentral, Reid underwent an emergency craniotomy, but was pronounced at the hospital April 8.
Dr. Williams, who saw the jail video of Reid’s collapse in the monitoring cell five months after the incident, said Reid was walking normally before he fell, and did not appear to be heading into a full-blown seizure.
Sheldon testified staff worked quickly after Reid collapsed, not bothering to put on gloves.
“Our staff went in and really started treating him right away, got medical help right away,” he testified. “My thought when I saw that video, I’m thinking this guy got better care than anywhere.”
Paxton said the sheriff’s department conducted an internal review of the death and found staff followed required policies and procedures.
Sheldon said he believes the sheriff’s department has gotten “beaten up” over what occurred.
“We do take people to the hospital. The hospital sends them back,” he said. “It’s not like we don’t care. We do care.”
The sheriff said he is satisfied with operations in the jail in 2013.
“I think that Captain (Joe) Masi is a very, very well trained and educated jail administrator. He has done a tremendous job. He has made tremendous improvements in the jail.”
Masi said he and other sheriff’s officials have built jail policy around making sure Richland County’s facility meets state minimum standards for operating jails, and have put a strong training program for corrections officers in place over the past two years.
“I think people should know that our correctional staff are very well trained,” Masi said. “The state minimum is 24 hours a year. We actually do approximately 96 hours. If you check the numbers for corrections officers across the state, we are probably one of the highest.”
After Reid’s death, Richland County began contracting out medical services with Premier Physicians Health Care, rather than employing nursing staff in-house. While there still is no overnight shift nurse at the jail, “we do have a nurse that is always on call,” Masi said.
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Interesting comments so far!
Susan L. Stevens · Top Commenter · CosmicWhen you Incarcerate someone. Take away their freedom of movement in society. You need to care for them. To allow anyone with a history in your system, and warnings from family to continue to detox alone is criminal. Alcohol is the riskiest drug to detox. from. No our officers aren’t the best around. Do you forget the frozen inmate incident already. We don’t. This is going to cost you.
Mark Ritchie · Top CommenterNo, Susan it’s going to cost you the tax payer. Where do you think the money comes from when the city or county loses a lawsuit. What’s really criminal is expecting the taxpayers to foot the bill for this stupid crap. If your so concerned with inmate care why don’t you start donating to the sheriffs department. It’s easy to place blame now how about a solution ?· 37 minutes ago
Jim Wetzel · Top Commenter · Colorado Technical UniversityPeople get incarcerated and have their freedom taken away from them because they break the law. The simple solution to that is don’t break the law. When they do and are put in jail, it is the taxpayer who foots the bill for it. Yeah they might charge an inmate money to stay in jail but realistically, how much of this money do they collect. If the person is in jail for drugs or alcohol chances are they can’t afford to pay for their stay anyway. Should they be released just because they can’t pay for their stay in jail? If that were to happen then people would be screaming that dangerous people are being put back into society. And then when something happens to the person on the street, say they have a seizure of die of an overdose in an alley, then people will say they should have been kept in jail. It is time people who commit crimes take responsibility for all of their actions and consequences and stop blaming everyone else. As far as that little puke who was put in the sallyport yeah what the Corrctions staff did was wrong. That was admitted by the Sheriff’s Dept and his family got their money, just like they wanted. Chances are they never would see that much money anyway and it was a way to milk the taxpayers. You seem to remember how he was mistreated in jail yet to fail to mention the grandmother he shot in the eye trying to protect her grandson from that monster. What about her? Should she sue him now that he won the lawsuit? I would.· 16 minutes ago
I personally wonder where the cameras are in all of this? We all know when you assume public trust you should take measures to protect yourself!
With all the abuse / professional courtesy this jail has had since it’s opening in 2008 would be enough for me to get cameras as a means of protecting it’s integrity. Budget restraints are NOT A GOOD EXCUSE!, and to me sounds like the next campaign slogan? – You don’t wanna DIE when you visit our jail?, then make sure you pass our next levy!
Remember when they wanted another .25% – “CRIME WILL SOAR” was the headlines! You gotta love the “Politician”, you know…the ones who paid good money for that education to become a sociopathic narcissist – lol!