Days after Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s office apparently resolved one wrongful-death lawsuit alleging faulty mental health care at the city's jail, it was hit by another suit from the mother of an inmate who overdosed on cocaine in the jail.
The suit filed Monday alleges that Orleans Justice Center guards allowed inmates to slip the drugs that killed Colby Crawford, 23, into the New Orleans lockup in February.
Medical health professionals at the jail also failed to treat Crawford’s bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and substance abuse disorder, according to the lawsuit.
The suit was filed in federal court by attorney Stephen Haedicke on behalf of Crawford’s mother, Cellette. It seeks unspecified financial damages from the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office and its health contractor, Correct Care Solutions.
Correct Care Solutions, which is headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee, has sometimes received criticism for its care of inmates. The company is a major player in the jail health care field, but it has been sued in federal court more than 140 times since 2005, according to The Daily Beast.
“The powers that be — Gusman and the medical providers — were aware that (inmates) had contraband in the facility, and they knew or should have known that people with psychiatric problems are particularly susceptible to drug abuse issues,” Haedicke said. “They set (Crawford) up for something to go wrong.”
The suit was filed two weeks after the son of another inmate who died in the jail, Cleveland Tumblin, reached an agreement in principle for a settlement in his wrongful-death suit against the Sheriff’s Office.
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Crawford had a long history of mental health problems, including suicidal ideas, when he was arrested on allegations that he punched his mother and struck his sister with a wooden stick in May 2016.
Crawford was “exhibiting delusional and paranoid thinking” at the time of his arrest, the lawsuit says. His symptoms improved when he was transferred to the state prison system’s mental health unit in June 2016, according to the suit.
However, Crawford was sent back to the Orleans Justice Center on Aug. 1, 2016. The suit alleges that the transfer was an inappropriate and “punitive” response to minor rules violations at the state prison.
Crawford was eventually sent to the general population wing of the Orleans Justice Center and stopped regularly taking his prescribed psychiatric medications, the suit says.
A doctor and two caseworkers employed by Correct Care Solutions failed to take action as Crawford deteriorated and asked to be placed on a psychiatric tier, the suit says.
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After Crawford told one caseworker that he was “hearing voices and seeing spirits,” she did nothing more than schedule a follow-up visit 10 weeks later, the suit claims.
The health care failures led up to supervision failures on Feb. 22 of this year, according to the suit. Jail guards failed to spot the cocaine that another inmate brought into the lockup and failed to notice as Crawford ingested cocaine throughout the day, the suit says.
At 7:42 p.m. that day, Crawford collapsed on his tier and died. The Sheriff’s Office booked an inmate on a murder count on allegations that he gave Crawford the cocaine, but the lawsuit places the blame squarely on deputies for failing to stop the drug abuse.
Spokesmen for the Sheriff’s Office and Correct Care Solutions declined to comment on the suit.
The lawsuit from Crawford’s mother bears a strong resemblance to one filed by the sister of Tumblin, 63, who hanged himself in a shower stall at the Orleans Justice Center in March 2016.
Like Crawford, Tumblin suffered from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, according to a lawsuit his sister filed in February. The suit alleged that deputies did nothing when he asked for medical help after he was booked.
Instead, Tumblin was allowed to shower in a stall that locked from the inside, a known suicide risk. There were no guards on watch in Tumblin’s unit when he died, according to the lawsuit his sister filed in February.
That suit was superseded by another filed the next month by Tumblin's son, Cleveland Henderson. U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman dismissed the son's lawsuit on Nov. 14, citing a settlement agreement.
Feldman said he had been advised that lawyers on both sides “have firmly agreed upon a compromise.”
The contours of that compromise remain unclear. An attorney for Tumblin’s son and a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office declined to disclose the terms of the agreement.
“Nothing has been completed yet,” said Philip Stelly, a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office. “The parties have 60 days to work out a settlement.”
Nevertheless, the prospect of a settlement left some of Tumblin’s family members with a sour taste.
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Tumblin’s brother Wesley Tumblin said he was disappointed that his nephew wanted to settle.
“He came along and took the case and decided to settle for some money, when I was trying to figure out what happened to my brother,” Wesley Tumblin said. “I didn’t feel as though I got justice in that situation. There was a lot more to that than just the money. We were seeking information on what really happened.”