Angola Death Row (copy)

Louisiana State Penitentiary

Attorneys for inmates at Louisiana State Penitentiary and the state are set to meet Wednesday with a Baton Rouge federal magistrate to try to resolve a 2015 lawsuit alleging grossly inadequate medical care at the Angola prison.

The scheduled settlement conference in the chambers of U.S. Magistrate Judge Richard Bourgeois Jr. comes nine months after Chief U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick presided over a bench trial of the suit.

"Before arriving at the settlement conference the parties are to negotiate and make a good-faith effort to settle the case without the involvement of the Court," Bourgeois wrote in a May 16 order.

A review of the court record Monday showed no filings in the case since his order.

Mercedes Montagnes, a lawyer with the New Orleans-based Promise of Justice Initiative, one of the groups that represents the Angola inmates, declined to comment Monday on the settlement conference. 

Attorneys for the state could not be reached for comment.

In her opening statement to Dick at the trial in October, Montagnes called the medical care at Angola "abysmal" and said it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

"There is no doubt there are good actors in the system, but the system itself is broken," Montagnes told the judge.

The state contends that Angola's inmates receive quality medical care.

A day after the suit was filed in May 2015, the state corrections department's now-former medical director, Dr. Raman Singh, acknowledged that Angola's 6,000-plus inmate population is challenging because of the number of elderly prisoners and those with chronic diseases.

Dr. Michael Puisis, an expert in medical care provided in correctional facilities, testified for the plaintiffs at the trial last fall that he spent four days at Angola and found the medical care there to be inadequate. Medical personnel fail to diagnose or properly treat illnesses, he said, and fail to provide follow-up care ordered by outside medical providers.

The suit claims inmates have suffered unnecessary pain and suffering, exacerbation of existing conditions, permanent disability, disfigurement and even death as a result of "grossly deficient" medical care.

Farrell Sampier, a paraplegic Angola inmate and one of the dozen named plaintiffs, testified at the trial that conditions were so bad in one of the maximum-security prison's infirmaries that he couldn't wait to get back to the prison's general population.

The Ward 2 infirmary for prisoners with serious chronic care needs reeked of human waste and was filled with the moans of prisoners "crying out to the Lord," he said. "I didn't want to die in that situation."

Mary Roper, one of the attorneys for the state at the trial, suggested to Sampier and Dick that the prison's medical staff was tough on him in the infirmary because they wanted him to become more independent and rejoin the general prison population.

The suit claims Angola’s medical care grew worse after the closure of Earl K. Long Medical Center in Baton Rouge, which used to serve prisoners with medical emergencies. The facility was closed in 2013 during the reorganization of the state’s charity hospital system.

The suit's defendants are the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections, Corrections Secretary James LeBlanc and Angola's wardens.

Email Joe Gyan Jr. at jgyan@theadvocate.com.