Recent deaths call attention to medical care in Forsyth jail

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About 20 people protested the recent deaths of two black men in the Forsyth County jail in downtown Winston-Salem on Monday. (photo by Jordan Green)

Activists in Winston-Salem say medical deaths in the Forsyth County lockup are avoidable.

Highlighting the medical-related deaths of two black men in the Forsyth County Law Enforcement Detention Center last month, about 20 people chanted, “Indict, convict, no more killer cops or jails,” and, “Money for jobs and education, not mass incarceration.”

Then, as dark clouds burst overhead on Monday evening, the protesters took cover under remnant parking deck at Merschel Plaza in downtown Winston-Salem.

“Mr. Stephen Patterson went to jail because this system criminalizes poverty,” said Effrainguan Muhammad, the Winston-Salem representative for the Nation of Islam. “He went to jail for child support. His child will never get support now. It’s real when we say black and brown lives matter. But under this system they clearly don’t matter.”

Stephen Antwan Patterson, 41, died in the jail on May 26. The State Bureau of Investigation is investigating Patterson’s death at the request of Sheriff Bill Schatzman and District Attorney Jim O’Neill. The state agency is also investigating the May 2 death of 39-year-old Deshawn Lamont Coley.

Tony Ndege, a local activist who organized the “No More Jail Deaths” rally and march, said Coley complained several times to staff at the jail about his asthma.

“When I talked to his wife, she told me that she expressed concern to the jail about his asthma,” Ndege said. “His mother called the jail extremely concerned about 48 hours before his death about his asthma.”

Cheryl Golden attended the rally to support her daughter, Yolanda Dillard, who is currently being held in the jail on multiple counts of failure to appear.

“[The jail staff] gave her the wrong medication,” Golden said in an interview. “They gave her a medication that makes her hallucinate.”

Nyasjha Dillard speaks about her mother, Yolanda Dillard. (photo by Jordan Green)

Dillard was scheduled to appear in Forsyth County Superior Court on a misdemeanor larceny charge and felony probation violation.

“They tried to do a cover-up,” Golden said. “The system is screwed up. They didn’t bring her to court. I felt like they didn’t bring her because they didn’t want us to see her condition. The judge ordered a doctor to see her in jail.”

Muhammad said the medical treatment received by inmates at the jail represents a troubling pattern.

“We are concerned because family members and community say they reached out about the condition of both Stephen Patterson and Deshawn Coley,” he said. “And now Ms. Golden, the mother of Yolanda Dillard, is pleading for her child’s health. It seems as if these pleas are unanswered. That’s very troubling.”

Forsyth County Sheriff Chief Deputy Brad Stanley said the SBI investigation addressing potentially criminal issues related to Patterson and Coley’s deaths, while the professional standards division of the sheriff’s office is undertaking an administrative review.

The state Division of Health Service Regulation-Construction Section also conducted an inspection of the jail in response to Coley’s death. Roger McCoy, chief of the construction section, informed Sheriff Schatzman in a May 17 letter that the “inspection found no deficiencies whereby no corrective action is necessary.”

Correct Care Solutions, a private medical provider based in Tennessee that holds the contract for medical care at the jail, is a defendant in two local lawsuits filed on behalf of former inmates. A medical examiner ruled that the death of Dino Vann Nixon, who is white, in the jail in August 2013 resulted from withdrawal from benzodiazepine. Correct Care Solutions and Sheriff Schatzman, who are defendants in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Nixon’s wife, dispute the finding. The suit alleges that medical staff refused to provide Nixon with Xanax, the brand-name for the anti-anxiety medication benzodiazepine.

Jennifer McCormack, a pregnant woman who had recently detoxed from opioids, experienced a heart attack in the Forsyth County jail in September 2014. She went into a coma and died at Baptist Hospital a couple days later after her family made the decision to take her off life support. A medical examiner found that McCormack’s heart attack was caused by dehydration. A wrongful death lawsuit filed by McCormack’s estate against Correct Care Solutions alleges that McCormack was unable to take medication prescribed for opioid withdrawal because of nausea, and that she received only one dose of Zofran, an anti-nausea medication during her stay at the jail.

“Jennifer’s dehydration would have been identified, treated and her death prevented had defendants reacted to her steadily deteriorating mental and physical condition and provided the most basic medical assessment and care such as basic laboratory blood tests,” McCormack’s lawyers wrote in a motion filed earlier this year.

Correct Care Solutions has denied any wrongdoing in the matter.

McCormack’s lawyers are seeking contracts between Correct Care Solutions and off-site medical providers, as the case moves toward trial in March 2018. Correct Care Solutions has characterized that and other requests for documentation by the plaintiffs as “burdensome.”

“One of the allegations in this case is that CCS was motivated to minimize offsite patient care in order to reduce costs,” McCormack’s lawyers wrote. “Accordingly, contracts between CCS and off-site providers are discoverable because plaintiff is entitled to determine whether such contracts contain any restrictions or limiting language.” A registered nurse and nurse practitioner formerly employed by Correct Care Solutions are also defendants in the suit.

Chief Deputy Stanley said Correct Care Solutions is conducting a separate investigation in response to the deaths of Deshawn Coley and Stephen Antwan Patterson focusing on medical aspects. Court documents in the Nixon lawsuit indicate that the investigations conducted by the healthcare company after an inmate’s death are secret.   

“The Continuous Quality Improvement Committee was formed and adopted by CCS’ governing body and medical staff for the sole purpose of peer review to evaluate the quality of medical care and for the purpose of improving future performance,” wrote Dawn Ducote, a Correct Care Solutions executive an April 2017 affidavit filed in the Nixon suit in response to a request by the plaintiffs for records.

“These documents are not otherwise available as public record and are held strictly confidential by myself as the committee’s program director,” Ducote wrote.

Patty McQuillan, the spokesperson for the State Bureau of Investigation, said the state agency did not receive requests from local officials to investigate the deaths of Nixon and McCormack. Chief Deputy Stanley did not directly respond to a question about why the agency did not request SBI investigations in the prior incidents, while turning it back to the present.

“I think part of that is that we want to ensure that the community [feels comfortable] in regard to our policies are followed,” Stanley said. “What better way to have that than have a third party come in and review that?”

Correct Care Solutions also holds the contract for inmate health services at the detention centers operated in Greensboro and High Point by the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office. Ellin Schott, who was jailed for panhandling, died in the Guilford County Jail in Greensboro in August 2015 as a result of “complications from prolonged seizure activity,” according to Medical Examiner Jacqueline Perkins.

Perkins wrote that Schott told staff at the jail “that she had seizures, nerve damage and was disabled,” and that the staff was aware that Schott took two anti-seizure medications, Keppra and Gabapentin. Perkins wrote that on the second day of her confinement — after Schott was observed shaking and trembling under her blanket — she told a nurse that she was on medication, and that the nurse responded that he would need to talk to a doctor and all he could give her in the meantime was Tylenol.

Jerry Hufton, a registered nurse, brought a sign to the “No More Jail Deaths” rally that read “Correct Care Solutions = Negligent Care.”

“Our jail currently has medical positions that are open,” Hufton said. “Any for-profit medical company is going to have a high ratio of clients to nurses. They could not have adequate care.

“A lot of times the nurses get thrown under the bus,” Hufton added. “I don’t blame the nurses.”

Chief Deputy Stanley emphasized that the recent deaths at the jail are related to medical care.

“From all indications, there’s the concern of medical care,” he said. “When the final findings of the autopsy come in as well as the jail inspector and the review from the medical provider Correct Care come in… from the law enforcement perspective, it’s unfortunate that it occurred in the Forsyth County Detention Center.”

After people voiced their concern about inmates’ medical treatment at the gathering under the parking deck at Merschel Park, the participants, including members of the Nation of Islam and the Sanctuary City Coalition of Winston-Salem, agreed to march through the rain and take their grievances to the jail. They briefly marched into the reception area of the jail, chanting, “Justice for Yolanda Dillard,” and then quickly left the building.

About five deputies appeared at the entrance of the jail and one informed the demonstrators that they were welcome to protest on the sidewalk but not allowed inside the facility. The protesters marched around the jail, chanting, “What do we want? Justice…. What do we want? Healthcare…. What do we want? The truth.” When they reached the Third Street side of the jail, the protesters chanted, “We love you,” as inmates watched from the windows.

“If you’re going to incarcerate people, at least give them dignity and treat them like human beings,” said Alexx Andersen, one of the protesters. “Most of them are in there on minor charges. It’s not fair for them to lose their lives for something so avoidable.”

An unidentified man raises a fist outside the Forsyth County jail. (photo by Jordan Green)