In The News

Lawsuit: Mentally ill abused at jail
Action alleges mistreatment of Mims, 3 other former inmates
12/30/04
By JAMES M. O'NEILL / The Dallas Morning News

Lawyers for James Monroe Mims and two other mentally ill former inmates -- one of whom died in jail -- filed suit in U.S. District Court on Thursday, alleging long-standing abuse and neglect at the Dallas County jail.

In Mr. Mims' case, an investigation by the Sheriff's Department found that he wasn't given his medicine for two months and that water in his cell was turned off for two weeks.

The suit includes allegations of mistreatment toward two other mentally ill inmates and alleges that the mistreatment led to the 2003 death of inmate Clarence Lee Grant Jr.

"The systematic abuse of mentally ill prisoners has been going on for years," said David Finn, the lawyer for Mr. Mims' family. "It's outrageous, and it needs to end."

Sheriff's Department spokesman Sgt. Don Peritz said the department does not comment on pending litigation.

The suit is unrelated to any criminal charges that could be brought after an FBI investigation of the Mims case.

After an investigation by The Dallas Morning News in 2002 outlined a series of cases in which mentally ill inmates were denied medication and otherwise mistreated, Dallas County commissioners moved to fix the problem by contracting with the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston to handle all medical services at the jail.

But Mr. Finn said Thursday that the changes did not fix the problems.

"If anything," he said, "they've gotten worse."

All three cases cited in the suit filed Thursday occurred after UTMB took over medical services at the jail.

The suit alleges that Mr. Grant, 51, suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. He had been arrested and charged with setting fire to his family's home. He was found incompetent to stand trial and transferred to Vernon State Hospital, where he received treatment for the schizophrenia, hypertension and seizure disorders.

On Feb. 4, 2003, Mr. Grant was transferred to Dallas County jail for a hearing. The hospital provided medical care instructions and a 14-day supply of medications he had been receiving.

The suit alleges that during his booking, Dallas County jail officials confiscated his medications and did not provide replacements within the first 24 hours of his arrival.

The suit alleges that he did not receive any medicine for five days. It states that when his sister, Lucille Ralston, visited him in jail Feb. 19, she "was horrified by his condition -- he was weak, disheveled, and could barely talk. Ms. Ralston immediately informed the guard of Grant's condition."

On Feb. 21, the suit said, a jail officer saw Mr. Grant sitting in his cell, weaving from side to side. The officer knocked three times on the glass of the jail cell and asked Mr. Grant whether he wanted to see a nurse.

"Although Mr. Grant moved each time he heard the knock, he failed to provide a verbal response to the officer's question," the suit reads. When the officer consulted with a nurse, "he was informed to note it as a refusal to see the nurse."

Mr. Grant died in his cell that day, the suit alleges, "from lack of proper medical attention."

Kennedy Nickerson is a 38-year-old who also suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. Mr. Nickerson was found incompetent to stand trial in June 2003 and sent to Kerrville State Hospital for treatment. He was sent to the jail June 15, 2003, for court proceedings. In medical documentation that accompanied him, the hospital staff indicated that Mr. Nickerson was unable to care for himself and needed sufficient and appropriate discharge plans.

On June 19, the suit alleges, Mr. Nickerson was released from the jail "to the street with no medication, no follow-up arrangements, and no notice to his family."

On June 24, Mr. Nickerson was found lying on the street, still without medication. He was transported to Baylor University Medical Center and was "dehydrated, suffering from a fever of 108 degrees, and having seizures."

Mr. Mims arrived at Parkland Memorial Hospital in April from the jail suffering from dehydration, seizures and pressure sores.

The suit argues that the county, the Sheriff's Department and the county hospital district, which hired UTMB, exhibited "deliberate, callous and conscious indifference" to the three inmates' civil rights by denying proper medical treatment.

Besides seeking monetary damages, the suit asks for a court injunction to prevent further abuse. That could result in a judge laying out steps the Sheriff's Department must follow or appointing an ombudsman to oversee health issues at the jail.

Joining the suit is Advocacy Inc., a federally financed, state-appointed nonprofit designed to protect the legal rights of people with disabilities.

Laurence Priddy, the agency's lawyer, said it appears that hiring UTMB did not improve jail treatment of mentally ill inmates.

"We think the problem is still endemic to the jail," he said. "In fact, there really seems to be a level of indifference there."