Alcatraz cellIn August 2013, a 19-year-old boy died naked on the floor of an Alabama jail cell. He didn’t die of a beating. He wasn’t stabbed or shot. He was a victim of a far more insidious form of violence perpetrated against poor, overwhelmingly black men and women. He died of gangrene. He died of neglect. The Alabama jail where he was being held let him die because they didn’t want to pay to have an infected wound treated. And as horrible and sickening as that is, it’s even worse than you’ve heard.

On Friday, Al.com reported on three lawsuits alleging medical neglect and abuse in Madison County jails that led to the deaths of three inmates of causes that just don’t kill people in the 21st century.

Deundrez Woods, 19, died of gangrene from an infected wound on the top of his foot. Woods was arrested on July 19, 2013 for “possession of a forged instrument” – according to reports, he was trying to pass a phony $100 bill. It was his second arrest in two months – he’d been arrested in June for shoplifting Star Wars DVDs from Walmart. According to arrest records found on jailbase.com, he was being held on $28,000 bail when he died on August 21.

deundrez woods booking info

Booking record as it appears in the source at Jailbase.com

In every other news report I could find regarding counterfeit bills in and around Huntsville during that time period listed bail amounts of $1,000 to $10,000. In one case, 11 people were arrested with $4,000 in fake bills and equipment to print bills – and were all released on bail amounts of $10,000 or less even though most of them were from out of state. There is one exception: a Florida man arrested in Gulf Shores for possession of forged instruments AND possession of a device to make forged instruments. In his case, bail was set at $30,000 to reflect flight risk – he’s from out of state, after all – and severity of the crime. Police found evidence that led them to believe he was running a counterfeiting ring, not just passing a single bill.

Process that for just a second. This boy had been convicted of nothing. He was a 19-year-old kid with few resources. He was charged with two non-violent crimes: shoplifting DVDs and possession of a fake $100 bill, which is a Class B felony. There’s no indication that he was a danger to anyone – but the judge and prosecutors saw fit to put a $28,000 bail on him.

Mug shots of 11 arrested for forgery

Mug shots of 11 arrested for forgery

Deundrez Wood's FB profile picture

Deundrez Woods FB profile picture

I wonder why that could possibly be… psych. No, I really don’t.

It’s quite possible that Deundrez Woods would still have been in jail even if his bail had been set at $10,000 or $5,000, but it’s far more likely that he would have been awaiting trial at home, where he would have seen a doctor about an infection in his foot that kept getting worse and worse. The lawsuit filed by his mother fills in other disturbing details. According to the AL.com article:

Instead of receiving treatment, the suit states, Woods was placed in a “medical observation cell” on Aug. 6, 2013. He had no access to water after Aug. 12. There is no record of him eating after Aug. 14. No nurses visited him after Aug. 14.

The suit contends that as his rotting foot began to stink, guards dragged him from the cell on Aug. 17, sprayed him down with water and placed him in a new cell.

In the Madison County Jail, his medical needs were ignored. And as someone who has seen gangrenous, suppurating wounds up close, I can tell you that it’s not easy to ignore. The stench is an unmistakable message that something is very, very wrong. When the prison guards started to smell it, they didn’t get him medical help. They hosed him down and moved him to another cell, probably one further away so they wouldn’t be bothered by the smell.

Deundrez Woods died five days later.

The details in the other two lawsuits are equally disturbing. Neither woman had been convicted of a crime – they were awaiting trial in jail because they couldn’t come up with bail.

Tanisha Jefferson was arrested on charges of harassment on October 14, 2013. The AL.com article says she was arrested at her home, but an earlier report on her death states that she turned herself in. She died 17 days later, on October 31, 2014, in her cell. A report at the time of her death stated that Jefferson was complaining of stomach pain on October 28. She was given medical treatment and medication and returned to her cell, where she again complained of stomach pain. She was transferred to the medical wing, where she was later found unresponsive and transported to the hospital, where she died.

The lawsuit filed in her name tells a drastically different story. Jefferson first began complaining of abdominal pain on October 19. By October 25, she had filed a complaint alleging medical neglect, stating that her repeated requests to see a doctor had been ignored. On October 28, she stated that she thought her life was in danger. She finally saw a doctor on October 29. By that time, she had been asking to see a doctor about severe abdominal pain for 10 days. She was vomiting, complained of rectal pain and presented other symptoms that should have prompted evaluation for bowel obstruction. The doctor gave her a laxative and sent her back to her cell.

From AL.com:

On Oct. 30, she began sweating and developed difficulty breathing or walking. She saw a nurse on Oct. 31. Medical personnel were informed of her deteriorating condition, reads the suit, but Jefferson was returned to her cell. She passed out at 8:40 p.m. “Even then Jefferson was not sent to the hospital.”

She was placed in a wheelchair and taken to the medical department within the jail for observation. An ambulance was called when she became nonresponsive at 9:09 p.m. She soon died.

At the time of her death, the lawsuit alleges, Jefferson had been constipated for 13 days. She had begged for help and been ignored. She died in police custody without ever going to trial.

Nikki Listau, 61, died of a broken leg sustained, prison administrators say, when she fell out of her bunk onto the floor on March 11, 2013. She had been arrested the previous day on charges of “harassing communications.” the lawsuit alleges that Listau was suffering from alcoholism-induced seizures when she was moved to a medical observation cell at around 2 p.m. the afternoon of her arrest. Shortly before 9 a.m. the next morning, guards found her naked on the floor of her cell, “raving incoherently.” They picked her up and put her back in bed about 9:40 a.m. after canceling her court appearance. She was moved to the hospital after she was found unresponsive in the observation cell at 11:19 a.m.

Nikki Listau died at the hospital the next day. An autopsy revealed, in addition to the broken femur, multiple blunt force injuries, including broken ribs. There’s no explanation of how those injuries happened, other than “falling out of bed.”

These are just three cases from one jurisdiction, and they represent the worst outcome of our jail and bail system – the death of a person who did not have to be in jail in the first place, and who, if they had not been poor (and, in many cases, black) would not have been in jail. they died in jail because they are poor. It’s that plain and simple — and disgusting.

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