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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Woman Recovering From Surgery Denied Medication At King County Jail

Imagine receiving a call one day telling you that your sister, who was heavily medicated and recovering from reconstructive surgery, had gone missing. Imagine searching everywhere with your family and friends for days, only to discover that she was in the last place you thought to look... in jail. Imagine then that, once you found out, you contacted the jail to inform them of her medical needs and was assured that her medical needs would be taken care of... but they weren't.

Last week we received a report from someone who told us just such a story. It seems that while King County officials were busy assuring the DOJ that they have taken care of the medical care problems at the King County Jail, they repeatedly ignored his sister's and her family's repeated requests to give the post-operative medication and care that she had already been prescribed.

Her ordeal started when she was arrested and detained under suspicion of shoplifting while she was under the influence of medication prescribed to her after she underwent reconstructive surgery a few days before. His sister had no previous record and several people who know her insist that such a charge seems contrary to her character. Indeed, whether or not she might have knowingly did anything wrong, she didn't deserve to suffer in needless agony for it.

When he contacted us, her brother had this to say:

"...What is most frustrating, is I'm her brother and the rest of our family didn't even think to call the King County Jail as to her location... (we were) doing a complete manhunt to find her car downtown(figured this was the best first step). We put out a missing persons report, and the police were delayed to arrive. While waiting for the police to arrive to her house, I took off and was driving towards downtown to where she last was known to be...

Thereafter, when we found she was in jail (thank god somebody had the idea to call). My sister had medical needs... and she had medication she needed for pain. My father had called the jail to let them know about her situation and what medication she needed and they told him that she would be taken care of. Long story short, is they did not take care of her and she was in serious pain her entire duration of her stay.

At the end of the day, this was bad luck for her that she experienced a knee jerk mechanical, unintuitive, and uncompassionate system for people (of which is there to serve and protect us as citizens).

Yes, is the experience, and when I saw that you had some info. online decided to send this email, cause I honestly have a hard time living in this town knowing that sometimes guilty but sometimes innocent people are treated this inhumanely."

Her brother was finally able to forward his sister's own account of her experience to us with permission to publish it, and his sister had this to say about her ordeal:
"A police officer came and handcuffed my hands behind my back, I requested he do this in front, so I could continue to wipe my nose (that was bleeding at the time), but he denied my request. He took me to the police station and put me in a holding cell while he did paper work. I have no idea how long I was there and was cold and my nose was a mess.

Finally I was booked in King County Jail, my belongings were taken into evidence, and I was put into a holding cell with phones that allow you to make a collect call but I keep all my phone numbers in my cell phone and don’t know any by heart. I must have asked several times to have someone look up a number for me on my cell phone (that was taken during booking), so I could let people know where I was, but my requests were ignored. Finally, I was told I would have an opportunity to use a phonebook later that evening, but by then my pain medication had worn off. I tried again to get the guard’s attention (to ask for medical care) but I was ignored.

I was crying, in pain, and worried that my family would be scared that I didn’t come home when I was put into another room where it was smaller with no phone. I was very cold, in a lot of pain, and very scared by then and I tried to get someone’s attention to ask for a blanket… but when I finally did get someone’s attention they just ignored me again. To stay warm I curled up in a fetal position with my face down even though I was not supposed to do because of my surgery… but I was too cold not to. Around 11pm they took me straight to my cell to sleep for the night and they never did let me have a phonebook to call someone like they promised.

The next morning I asked some of the other inmates how I could get a hold of a phone book and how to request medical attention. They showed me a wall where there were forms that I had to fill out and give to one of the officers, so I filled out forms (called kites) requesting medical attention and a phonebook. At some point, late in the afternoon, I finally saw a nurse who took my vitals. I told her again about my medical condition, the medications that I need, and the care instructions for my surgical care. I also told the person that my splint had come off early last morning and I was scheduled to see my doctor today to have it put back on. I told them if they called my roommate that I had the splint at home and she could bring it to them to put it on.

I gave my roommates name, and told them that they could find her number in my cell phone that was detained with my belongs and they said that they would contact her… but, they never did. I was given some Neosporin, a blanket (which was to elevate my head…it did about one inch), 2 antibiotics, and a nasal spray… which I guess considering the stories I have heard from other inmates was generous. This might have been appropriate care for someone with allergies and a nose rash… but very negligent care for someone who had just had 3 hour reconstructive surgery for a broken nose.

I sent repeated medical slips (kites) requesting my medication, my nose splint, and icepacks, but they were ignored. I sent 3 kite forms requesting a phonebook to contact my family and they were completely ignored as well. I told anyone who would listen that I needed to contact someone to let them know I was alive but the doctor, the officers, and everyone continued to ignore me. I didn’t know what the status of my case was and I wasn’t told when or if I was going to see a judge. I became so afraid of the lack of care and communication that I spent most of my time in my cell. For two nights and three days I was in King County Jail and I spent most of my time lying in a fetal position on my bed crying and believing that they had forgotten about me… I even started thinking that I might be there for months.

I know this sounds dramatic and it would to me if I was someone else reading this, but it is difficult to understand without experiencing. I have never been to jail, never arrested for shoplifting. I was locked in with no information about my case, while knowing my family was going to be worried sick but denied the ability to contact anyone. I heard several stories of some of the other inmates who have been neglected medically for months. I never realized how poorly the King County Jail system was run, and I found it to be very cruel and inhumane."

The King County Jail gives powerful narcotics to junkies as soon as they are booked to help them avoid the symptoms of withdrawl. They also don't have any policy against giving prescription pain medication to suspects injured in the course of arrest... that they would ignore repeated requests to supply prescribed medication to a woman recovering from surgery over a simple shoplifting charge is beyond comprehension. To ignore her family's concerns as well as her own agonized pleas for help is unconscionable.

Now, before anyone dismisses this as an overreaction, consider this... Imagine that you were disoriented and injured and put in a cell without being told anything about what's happening to you. Imagine then that the pain grows worse and your pleas for help are ignored... There is nothing to distract you from the pain you feel and this amplifies your agony as it's the only thing you have to think about. You've been cut off from your family, friends, everyone... and the only people you have to turn to for help seem to take perverse joy in your suffering... Believe me, it's nothing short of torture.

Fortunately, at least, it appears as though the case against her has been dismissed. We sincerely hope that she and her family are doing better and that this horrible ordeal has not hampered her recovery.

The brother and his sister have given us permission to publish their story, but because of our policy regarding the protection of identities for people who have been mistreated in custody, we have removed any identifiable information in order to protect victims of abuse.

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