Cecil Williams

Cecil Williams and his daughter

A lawsuit alleges a Baton Rouge man died from an asthma attack awaiting trial on an attempted murder charge after corrections staff ignored his pleas for life-saving medical care.

The family of Cecil Williams, 20, filed a wrongful death and negligence lawsuit Wednesday against LaSalle Corrections, LLC, a private company that manages the Madison Parish Correctional Center in Tallulah, where Williams died. LaSalle did not reply to a request for comment.

Warning: The following video contains material that some viewers may find upsetting.

Records show Williams was arrested last February on attempted first-degree murder and other counts, violating state parole terms imposed in another case, and booked into East Baton Rouge Parish Prison. Police say he had mugged and shot a man Feb. 19, then he and another man put the victim in the trunk of a car before releasing him later.

After his booking, Williams complained of breathing problems and was taken to the Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center. He escaped, fled and holed up in a home near Scenic Highway, triggering a four-hour standoff that ended after law officers fired chemical irritants into the house.

The Department of Corrections had Williams transferred from Baton Rouge to Tallulah last July.

At Tallulah, Williams told the staff he had no albuterol medication left to control his severe asthma, which he had had since childhood. The lawsuit says that, during an asthma attack July 9, an on-duty nurse told him to "stop playing ... and wait" after he struck the door to a dormitory near her work station and later collapsed.

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The family claims the nurse and a prison guard later did not render aid, but told other inmates to drag Williams into the dorm. The officer “just assumed that Williams had passed out from an asthma attack,” the lawsuit says.

According to the lawsuit, other guards also wouldn't attempt to resuscitate Williams but that several inmates did for about an hour, without success.

An Emergency Medical Services crew arrived later, found no pulse or heartbeat and pronounced him dead, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit says an inmate in possession of a contraband cell phone took a video of the inmates attempting to revive Williams. The video, provided to The Advocate by the family's lawyer, shows a group of people in a circle around a man's body while two of them attempt cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

"You've been on that floor for an hour...c'mon," one man says. He then identifies where he is: Madison Parish, Tallulah, Louisiana. 

Williams' mother, Karnasha Williams, not a party to the lawsuit being brought on behalf of Williams' children, said her son did not receive proper care.

"He didn’t get the proper medical attention that he needed," she said. "Basically, from what I’ve seen and heard ... they watched him die."

This story has been updated to clarify that the state Department of Corrections was the agency in charge of Williams' detention because of the parole violation and asked that he be transferred to the facility at Tallulah. 

Email Jacqueline DeRobertis at jderobertis@theadvocate.com