At the end of 2013 I wrote about the death of inmate Terry Edwards at the Jefferson County jail. Edwards, who was being held for driving on a suspended license, had been there for two days after being arrested by St. Louis County police. He died of a perforated ulcer.
Now, a multi-million dollar lawsuit has been filed against the county over this death. The suit contends that Edwards was in major pain from the afternoon of November 28, 2013 (Thanksgiving Day) until his death early the next morning, and that his requests for help were shrugged off by jail staff and the doctor (who was reached by phone).
According to the jail’s IJMS (Inmate Jail Management System) log, the doctor was called at 4:20 pm on the 28th due to Edwards’ “massive stomach pains,” and said to give him Milk of Magnesia. The doctor was called again at 8:58 pm because Edwards had “bad lower stomach pains and his shoulder and arm was hurting.” The doctor said to give Edwards Motrin and have him see the nurse in the morning. Edwards refused the Motrin. (Of note, ibuprofen and other NSAIDs can actually cause ulcers). Deputies’ reports say he was last seen alive at about 2:15 am. It was at about 4:20 am that Edwards was found to be unresponsive and the ambulance was called. He was pronounced dead at 4:44 am.
What The Lawsuit Says
According to the lawsuit, two other inmates stated that Edwards made additional and repeated requests for medical assistance, but jail officials declined, claiming that he was “dope sick” (he was not found to have drugs in his system). The inmates stated that they also asked, and even begged, jail officials to help him, and that he was vomiting blood. One inmate told this version of events to Fox 2:
“He had been having stomach pains, and he was leaned over holding his belly,” the inmate, who did not want to be identified, said.
He went on to say that Edwards asked jail authorities for help.
“Like six or seven times,” he said.
Here’s a contemporaneous Facebook posting:
What Sheriff Records Say
According to one corrections officer (CO), Edwards complained of back pain at 5:45 pm on the 28th, but did not mention any pain when his meal was delivered at 7 pm or at 10:30 pm. This officer mentions no other contact with the inmate until the time he was found unresponsive after 4 am.
Another CO reported that Edwards never asked for medical treatment or mentioned any medical problems. A third CO who interacted with Edwards during the afternoon of the 28th saw him in a vomiting position but says he observed no blood coming up. He also stated with a suspicious tone that Edwards only asked for help when he could see a CO, but did not ask for help when he did not see one. (That kinda seems reasonable to me.)
The CO who apparently was last to see Edwards alive, at 2:15 am, said he complained of stomach pains and asked for something “to calm his stomach.” The CO denied this request, due to his refusal of Motrin, and told Edwards to see the nurse, who was scheduled to arrive at the jail at 9 am.
There are apparent differences between what one inmate told the COs and what he told the plaintiff’s attorneys. This is in a CO report:
This is in the lawsuit:
The latter statement has additional details; one might wonder why these details were not shared with the COs. But maybe Cox did not feel comfortable placing blame on the COs while he was still in custody. Of note, it does not appear that the COs took statements from any of the neighboring inmates, including one who claimed in the lawsuit that he had asked the COs to help Edwards.
In general, this lawsuit will have to overcome the general tendency to trust law enforcement officers over those who’ve been accused of crimes (however minor) and incarcerated, as well as the probability that there are inmates who lie about medical problems. But the fact that Edwards was fine when he entered the jail and shortly thereafter died of a treatable condition is also a hard fact to explain away.
At the time, and I believe currently, the jail contracted with Correctional Healthcare Companies for inmate medical care. This company has been hit with a number of lawsuits for inadequate provision of care and may find itself a party to this lawsuit at some point.