A New Orleans inmate who died at University Medical Center over the weekend suffered from sickle-cell disease, a blood disorder that left him hospitalized periodically, according to his family.
But the family of Calvin Thomas, 34, raised questions Monday about the medical treatment Thomas received during a nearly two-month stay in the city’s new jail. They said he was stabbed inside the lockup several weeks ago and that he complained of having pain in his arm and chest afterward.
“He had been calling me, telling me they hadn’t been giving him his medicine,” said Latasha Rogers, Thomas’ girlfriend of six years. “They didn’t want to treat him for the wound, and there was green pus coming out. They weren’t worried about helping him.”
Rogers, who is the mother of Thomas’ 3-year-old son, said she had not seen the wound personally, in part because Thomas was moved to a different part of the jail after the stabbing and she had been unable to see him last week, despite waiting for two hours at the jail. But she said she had spoken to him regularly over the phone and also received letters from him in the past few weeks.
She said Thomas typically could go for about a month without taking his folic acid supplements. At times, she said, he could not afford to buy the medication.
Thomas’ sister, Le’Mona Deal, said she did not believe jail officials took the jailhouse fight seriously enough.
“We really want to seek justice in Calvin’s death,” she said.
The Sheriff’s Office has provided few details about Thomas’ case, releasing a short statement Sunday that said only that the inmate had been taken to the hospital on Thursday “for a chronic medical condition.”
“The cause of death has not been confirmed,” the statement said.
A spokesman for Sheriff Marlin Gusman did not respond to a request for further details Monday.
Dr. Jeffrey Rouse, the Orleans Parish coroner, scheduled an autopsy for Tuesday. A representative of the FBI is expected to attend the procedure, in keeping with new protocols for in-custody deaths that Rouse introduced last year.
An inmate at the jail who identified himself as Earl N. Montgomery said in a phone message to The New Orleans Advocate that he had shared cell A2013M with Thomas and that he had become increasingly concerned about the man’s well-being in his final days. He said Thomas had been “balled up in bed” complaining of chest pain even after his stab wound healed.
“They refused to send him to the hospital where he needed to be at for his special treatment,” Montgomery said, referring to the deputies and nurses working in the jail. “It was consistently days that he would not come out of his cell because he was having chest pain. He told me himself, personally, that he felt like he was about to die.”
Rogers expressed frustration that the authorities had not informed her — or Thomas’ immediate family — that he had been hospitalized late last week. She said the family’s first contact with the Sheriff’s Office occurred on Sunday, after Thomas was pronounced dead.
“I’m in a state of shock right now,” Rogers said. “I just want to know what happened.”
Thomas, also known as Calvin Deal, grew up in New Orleans and worked as a carpenter, Rogers said.
She described him as a caring father who enjoyed basketball and music. Recently, though, he “had been hanging around the wrong people,” she said.
Thomas turned himself in to authorities Sept. 24 on a couple of robbery charges. Court records show he had been accused of a stickup in late August at a Circle K store near Audubon Park that netted him $67. About two weeks earlier, police said, he stole some cash from the register at a Wendy’s restaurant on St. Charles Avenue.
He also faced drug charges stemming from a traffic stop in Gretna earlier this year during which police said they found heroin and crack cocaine. Rogers said Thomas actually had been looking forward to his court proceedings in Jefferson Parish in light of the conditions he faced during his incarceration in New Orleans.
On Monday afternoon, Thomas’ son, C.J., played on the porch of his family’s home off Jackson Avenue, still unaware of his father’s death.
Taking a break for a moment from the Radio Flyer tricyle his father bought for him, he embraced his mother and asked again where Thomas was.
“He misses him,” Rogers said.
Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter @JimMustian.