The parents of a prisoner who died in custody at the Tangipahoa Parish Jail last year filed a wrongful death suit alleging jail staff failed to monitor the health of Keith Joseph or provide him with treatment “evidencing a wanton disregard” for his medical needs.
The lawsuit, filed Monday in the U.S. District Court in New Orleans names the Sheriff’s Office, several deputies and the site’s nurse as defendants.
Sheriff Daniel Edwards extended his condolences to Joseph’s family, but has contested many of the plaintiffs’ claims, writing in a Tuesday email to The Advocate that “there are abundant factual errors” with the family’s version of the story.
Joseph was booked into the jail on or about Feb. 19, 2014, the petition states. He was serving time for a revocation to his probation related to a prior felony conviction for distribution of Schedule I narcotics, the sheriff wrote.
Joseph died March 11, 2014, almost exactly a year before the suit was filed.
While he was in jail, Joseph’s mother and siblings told staff he had a number of health conditions, including blood clots surrounding his lungs and a severe but unspecified heart condition, the petition states.
The lawsuit says Joseph had been prescribed medication for his heart condition, and that when he did not take the medicine he experienced “severe and intolerable chest pains.” Around March 3, 2014, he began to complain about such pains and told a staff member identified only as Officer Brock, “and also specifically and continually requested his medication” for at least a week prior to his death, the petition claims.
On March 11, 2014, Joseph was taken to see the on-duty nurse, and his vital signs were taken, though he was returned to his cell, the petition alleges. Shortly after returning, he again complained to Brock.
“Ain’t nothing wrong with you, sit your (expletive) down,” was the officer’s reply, the petition alleges.
After the exchange, Joseph “had a bowel movement, gasped for air, and collapsed in front of Officer Brock,” the document continues.
It claims three other prisoners witnessed the events.
The petition goes on to allege that it was at least half an hour after Joseph’s collapse before he was given CPR.
The petition blames the “actions and/or inaction” of the defendants for Joseph’s death.
The Sheriff’s Office, which has not yet been served with the lawsuit, remembers a very different chain of events.
“At this juncture we can say that our records and the recollection of medical professionals at the jail refute the allegations of the lawsuit,” the sheriff said.
“Our records show Mr. Joseph was in the jail medical office for certain complaints when he lost consciousness and was given CPR immediately,” Edwards wrote.
Within five minutes, emergency medical crews arrived on scene and provided care, but Joseph died “after more than an hour of attempts to resuscitate him. The coroner was called and performed an autopsy without delay,” he continued.
Defendants named in the suit are the state Department of Corrections, the Tangipahoa Sheriff’s Office, Edwards, Officer Brock, two assistant wardens, the parish prison medical services, the insurance company believed to provide coverage for the Sheriff’s Office and a nurse who works for the prison.
The suit also mentions Dr. Reginald Goldsby, identified as the nurse’s supervisor, who is sometimes specifically named as a defendant, but whose name is at other times excluded from the list of defendants. The sheriff, in his email, said the suit makes mention of “a physician who hasn’t worked in the jail in more than (four) years,” though he does not specifically identify the doctor.
The plaintiffs, Jerry and Merline Joseph, identified as Keith Joseph’s parents, have requested a jury trial and are seeking unspecified compensatory, nominal and punitive damages as well as court costs and attorneys’ fees.
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