A 72-year-old Gonzales man described by a family member as having a history of mental illness died Wednesday morning while incarcerated at the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison.
The death of Paul Rogers Cleveland, who died from what authorities described as severe heart problems, marked the third time since April that a Parish Prison inmate died while in custody.
Of the last four people who died in Parish Prison, including one in 2013, at least three had mental health problems, their family members said.
This comes at a time when jails increasingly are housing more mentally ill people as officials in recent years have closed many of the state’s mental health facilities.
Dr. Beau Clark, the parish coroner, said an autopsy conducted Wednesday determined that Cleveland died of severe cardiac disease, pending further studies. Investigators need some more information, including a toxicology report, to complete a thorough ruling on Cleveland’s death, Clark said.
Cleveland was booked into the Parish Prison in September on counts of threatening public officials after police said he threatened to kill an Ascension Parish judge, a district attorney and himself inside the state’s 1st Circuit Court of Appeal on North Third Street. Although the offense is a misdemeanor, Cleveland’s bail was set at $300,000.
A few days ago, Cleveland’s family members received word that his health was deteriorating rapidly inside the jail. They called and emailed numerous city-parish officials, seeking help.
“Daily requests and inquiries regarding our concern for the welfare of our brother were ignored,” said Cathy Broussard-McLaurin, Cleveland’s sister. “Words are not adequate to express the depth of our grief over this situation.”
Cleveland was found unresponsive in his jail cell about 4:20 a.m., said Mike Chustz, a spokesman for the parish’s Emergency Medical Services, which handles medical treatment inside the Parish Prison.
Cleveland wasn’t taken to a hospital because he was already dead, Chustz said.
A spokeswoman for the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office said Warden Dennis Grimes confirmed with EMS on multiple occasions that Cleveland was being monitored by medical staff.
Nevertheless, Cleveland’s family was left mourning his death on Wednesday.
“I was and am devastated that each time me or a family member received a call from my brother, we could hear the fear and alarm regarding the conditions and treatment he was subjected to during his incarceration,” Cleveland’s sister said. “We are overwhelmed with shock that he would die in those conditions without anyone addressing the mental and physical care that he desperately needed.”
Sherrilyn Sabo, Cleveland’s niece, said her uncle suffered from diabetes and high blood pressure. She also said he had a history of mental illness and depression.
“All night we were just praying because we just knew,” Sabo said. “We just had this foreboding feeling.”
Chustz, the EMS spokesman, said he couldn’t confirm Wednesday evening any details about Cleveland’s treatment or the medication he received or didn’t receive.
Cleveland’s family members described him as a generous and kind U.S. Navy veteran.
The last inmate to die in Parish Prison before Cleveland was Antwoin Haden, a 28-year-old Baton Rouge man who suffered a blood clot in his lung in late July, according to the Coroner’s Office.
Haden’s mother, Angelo Moses, said her son suffered from sickle cell disease and bipolar disorder. She said she was told by officials that her son refused to take his medicine prior to his death.
“They said by law they can’t make the inmate take the medicine,” Moses said. “But still, it should be changed by law. They should make that different.”
According to a national report released in April by the Treatment Advocacy Center, a nonprofit organization that advocates for improvements in the treatment of mentally ill people, it’s possible to secure involuntary treatment for a mentally ill inmate for up to 15 days with certification from a psychiatrist or other physician. Anything longer than that requires a petition to be filed in court, the report says.
Moses said if her son ever went without his sickle cell medication for more than a week, it likely would result in severe health problems. At the time of his death, she said, he had been without the medicine for 16 days — the entirety of his stay at the Parish Prison following a misdemeanor arrest in mid-July.
Haden was booked on a count of entering or remaining after being forbidden when an employee at the Drury Inn on Essen Lane told police Haden wouldn’t leave the hotel lobby. Haden told police he was homeless and preferred to be in jail, arrest records show.
The first person to die in Parish Prison this year was Jeremy Hilliard, a 23-year-old Baton Rouge man booked in April on counts of domestic abuse battery and second-degree battery. Hilliard was accused of striking his mother in the face.
Hilliard died two days after being booked into Parish Prison when he suffered a blood clot in his lung, said Clark, the parish coroner.
Attempts to reach Hilliard’s relatives on Wednesday evening were unsuccessful.
The only person to die in Parish Prison in 2013 was David O’Quin, a 39-year-old mentally ill man who spent the better part of two weeks strapped to a chair in his cell before a blood clot killed him. Authorities said the restraints contributed to O’Quin’s death.
Since his son’s death, Bill O’Quin has become an advocate for mental health reform, especially for the treatment of mentally ill inmates.
“This really shouldn’t be happening like this,” O’Quin said of the recent deaths. “It just makes me sick to my stomach.”
Follow Ben Wallace on Twitter, @_BenWallace.