New Orleans jail staffers ignored dying man’s cries for help, lawsuit charges

This article was originally published by The Advocate on September 4, 2018. See full article online.

By Matt Sledge- The Advocate

Narada Mealey entered the New Orleans jail last October accused of missing a court date over $420 in unpaid court costs he owed in Jefferson Parish for marijuana possession.

He left the lockup two days later on his way to the grave, in a coma and suffering from shock, blood sepsis and cardiac arrest.

In between, relatives allege in a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday, jail deputies and health staffers ignored his cries for help and failed to monitor his vital signs in violation of their own protocols.

The suit, which seeks unspecified financial damages, says the 32-year-old died in “yet another tragic, unnecessary and preventable death at the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office.”

It is the latest lawsuit to hit not only Sheriff Marlin Gusman but also the jail’s health contractor, Correct Care Solutions, a Nashville-based company. Several jail deputies and health care workers are also listed as defendants.

The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo.

The Sheriff’s Office declined to comment. Correct Care has said it does not comment on open lawsuits.

The complaint provides a nearly hour-by-hour account of a litany of official errors which the plaintiffs say caused Mealey’s pre-existing health conditions to become fatal.

Mealey was booked into the jail on Oct. 27. Court records show that he was wanted on an outstanding warrant issued by 24th Judicial District Court Judge Scott Schlegel for a missed court date.

Mealey was caught with 1.8 grams of pot, the equivalent of three to six joints, in a Woodmere alley in 2015. He was convicted of simple marijuana possession.

Two years later, the case was still hanging over him in the form of $420 in unpaid court fees. Schlegel issued the warrant after Mealey failed to appear for a hearing on the fees.

At the time of his arrest, Mealey was suffering from chronic ulcer problems. Relatives say he was also addicted to opioids.

Mealey’s first stop at the jail was the Intake Processing Center, where new inmates are held before they are moved into the main jail or transported to other parishes.

The lawsuit says that a day after his arrest, Mealey was still in the intake center. He was never given a place to sleep beyond a chair or the concrete floor, the suit claims.

From the night of Oct. 28 until he lost consciousness the next day, Mealey complained about his health over and over, the suit says. At about 9:45 that night, he told a nurse that he had severe abdominal pain and had been vomiting, the suit says.

Around 1 a.m. on Oct. 29, Mealey repeated his complaint. The nurse still took no action, according to the suit.

By 2:30 a.m., Mealey told a nurse that he had been snorting heroin before his arrest and needed to go to the hospital. The nurse told a supervisor, who placed Mealey on the jail’s opioid withdrawal protocol, the lawsuit says.

Health care workers gave Mealey acetaminophen, an anti-diarrheal medication and anti-nausea medications, the lawsuit says. But the suit claims that nurses failed to monitor his vital signs despite a requirement in the withdrawal protocol that they do so every eight hours.

Employees on the day shift, which started about 7 a.m. Oct. 29, also failed to check his vitals, according to the suit.

A check “would have shown that Mr. Mealey was in a medical crisis that required immediate hospitalization. However, these defendants ignored their duties to Mr. Mealey and his repeated pleas for help,” according to the lawsuit.

Mealey called relatives, telling them he thought he was going to die. Although they called the jail and visited it in person, nothing was done, the lawsuit says.

Finally, Mealey collapsed on the floor of the processing center and began vomiting violently about 2 p.m. on Oct. 29. The lawsuit says that 40 minutes later, he was taken to the jail’s medical unit, where he again collapsed.

At that point the jail sent Mealey to University Medical Center. Doctors there discovered that he had a perforated gastric ulcer that was bleeding, the lawsuit says. He was in a coma and died on Nov. 2.

Mealey was the father of four children, whose mothers, Natasha Tolbert and Bridget Armstrong, are listed in the lawsuit as the plaintiffs acting on behalf of the children.

The women are being represented by attorneys Stephen Haedicke and Gary Bizal, who have squared off against the Sheriff’s Office in civil rights claims in the past.

The lawsuit says that Mealey’s death was not an isolated error — that in case after case the jail and its health care provider have failed to provide adequate medical care due to staffing shortages and shoddy policies.

Mealey was one of six inmates to die at the jail in 2017. Last month the sister of inmate Dennis Edwards filed a lawsuit against the jail alleging that health care workers there failed to send him to the hospital in time to prevent his death from hypertensive cardiovascular disease in December.

Complaints have also come from the federal monitors assigned to oversee the jail’s reform agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice.

In an Aug. 29 report, those monitors said Correct Care still needs to make “substantial improvement” to its detox response, nearly a year after Mealey’s death.

The monitors said that “a focused review of patients monitored for withdrawal from drugs and/or alcohol indicated that most were seen every 12 hours instead of every eight hours.”


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