Justice for a 'Death of Neglect'

Justice for a 'Death of Neglect'
Posted by CN Staff on September 17, 2005 at 10:16:18 PT
By Colbert I. King
Source: Washington Post
Washington, D.C. -- Next Tuesday marks the first anniversary of 27-year-old Jonathan Magbie's final encounter with the D.C. government. It will be no cause for celebration.It was on Sept. 20, 2004, that D.C. Superior Court Judge Judith Retchin sentenced Magbie, a quadriplegic since an accident at age 4, to 10 days in the D.C. jail. His crime? Possession of marijuana.
Five days after falling into the hands of the D.C. government, Magbie was dead. He died a horrible death. It was preventable. But nobody in the system cared.Looking down from her bench, Retchin saw a first-time offender. He controlled his wheelchair with a mouth-operated device. He could breathe only with a battery-controlled pulmonary pacemaker. At night he needed the assistance of a respirator. He could have been sentenced to home detention, where he would have had round-the-clock attention. Instead, Retchin, apparently upset when Magbie refused to swear off weed, which helped him get through a miserable existence, sent him to that taxpayer-supported hellhole near the Anacostia River known as the D.C. jail.What happened to Magbie at the jail and at Greater Southeast Community Hospital, where his life ended five days later, shouldn't happen to a dog. In fact, it doesn't happen to dogs and cats in the custody of decent and caring people. But Magbie had no one in his corner except his mother, Mary Scott, and she could not join him in jail. In the intervening 12 months, the continuum of players responsible for Magbie's last days on Earth has never had it so good.Retchin's handling of the Magbie case was reviewed by the D.C. Commission on Judicial Disabilities and Tenure: It gave her grace, and she was subsequently rewarded with a renewed assignment to the court's coveted criminal docket so that more Retchin-style justice can be meted out to the criminal-minded.Odie Washington, director of the Corrections Department, which runs the D.C. jail, retired with full honors and words of praise from the mayor. And Greater Southeast Community Hospital, which treats the District's sick inmates under a lucrative D.C. government contract, continues to collect D.C. checks, courtesy of city taxpayers.The only person made to pay for the mistreatment of Jonathan Magbie has been Magbie himself. But perhaps not for long.On the anniversary of his imprisonment, attorneys retained by Magbie's mother will file a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the D.C. government and the hospital charging them with medical malpractice and violations of the D.C. Human Rights Act, the Americans With Disabilities Act and the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.Magbie's lawyers are no slouches. Two of them, Donald Temple and Ed Connor, successfully sued the Eddie Bauer clothing store chain in 1997 for falsely imprisoning and defaming three young black men on suspicion of shoplifting. The federal jury required the company to pay $1 million.Temple and Connor are joined by the American Civil Liberties Union's Eighth Amendment specialists in prisoners' rights, Elizabeth Alexander and Arthur Spitzer. Together they have done the job that the D.C. inspector general's office and the mayor's office told me they would do -- but did not. Magbie's lawyer found out what happened to him during those five fateful days a year ago. And they want to tell that story to a federal judge and jury.Among the evidence they will present is an affidavit and medical opinion from Jerry S. Walden, a prison medicine expert and former chief medical officer at the U.S. penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind. After a review of records from the D.C. jail and Greater Southeast Community Hospital, interviews with various sources and a look at the pertinent medical literature, Walden concluded that "Jonathan Magbie died a death of neglect."There were, Walden said, many parts to the failure to take Magbie's health seriously. "Certainly the tracheostomy accident [Magbie's tracheostomy was misaligned, shoved back in, and not tied to maintain a correct position] could have been prevented and happened while being monitored."His pneumonia [noted during the initial jail examination] was essentially undiagnosed and untreated. Despite the early X-ray and the sputum production, no one sent a sputum specimen and started treatment. All this was complicated by his nutritional status." (Magbie weighed 130 pounds at jail intake on Monday, Sept. 20. Five days later, at his autopsy exam, he weighed 90 pounds)."He had been in the emergency room on day one [rushed from the jail to Greater Southeast and returned the next day] and had fluid and sugar deficits noted. No one cared that he wasn't eating or measured his fluid intake after."Although Magbie needed a respirator and made that fact known on his first day at the jail, he was never given one during his five days in custody. "There were no physicians consult nor pulmonary consult performed while in the jail. He was monitored by license practical nurses. No RN [registered nurse] or PA [physician's assistant] or doctor followed him or was even consulted about" drastic changes in his condition.Disaster struck on Sept. 24, his last day at the jail -- and in this world. The lawsuit will detail what happened that day.None of this will soften the blows that Magbie received from the D.C. government. None of this will bring him back or end the weeping and sorrow in his family. But Magbie deserves justice. This is an opportunity. We are obliged to try.Newshawk: puff_tuffSource: Washington Post (DC)Author:  Colbert I. KingPublished: Saturday, September 17, 2005; Page A21Copyright: 2005 Washington Post Contact: letterstoed washpost.comWebsite: Related Articles:Missing Answers About Jonathan Magbie Faulted In Death Of Inmate Judges The Judge? 
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Comment #1 posted by FoM on September 20, 2005 at 12:56:17 PT
Press Release from MPP
 Congress Shares Blame For D.C. Medical Marijuana Patient's DeathSuit Filed Today Highlights Prison Neglect, But Congress Made Quadriplegic's Death PossibleSeptember 20, 2005 WASHINGTON, D.C.—A lawsuit filed today by the family of Jonathan Magbie focuses on neglect by District of Columbia jail officials leading to the 27-year-old quadriplegic's death in custody one year ago, but Congress must share in the blame, officials of the Marijuana Policy Project said today.Magbie used marijuana to ease the pain associated with his paralysis, which was the result of being struck by a drunk driver at age four. Magbie was convicted of possession of a single marijuana cigarette. Though eligible for probation, he was sentenced to 10 days in the D.C. Central Detention Facility—in part because he told officials that he would continue to use marijuana because it made him feel better. He died in custody, apparently because officials failed to provide essential care. Magbie's mother, Mary Scott, is seeking compensation in a suit filed today in U.S. Court for the District of Columbia."Jonathan Magbie's agonizing death was completely unnecessary," said Aaron Houston, director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C. "The jail and hospital officials who were negligent must be held accountable, but Congress also bears a major share of responsibility for this tragedy. Magbie was a disabled patient whose use of marijuana for pain relief would have been legally protected if the medical marijuana initiative overwhelmingly approved by District voters in 1998 had been allowed to take effect. Because Congress intervened to block the democratic rights of District voters, Jonathan Magbie went to jail and died for simply trying to ease his pain."In November 1998, District of Columbia voters approved a medical marijuana measure, Initiative 59, with 69% of the vote. The "Barr Amendment," sponsored by former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA) not only blocked the measure from taking effect, but kept a subsequent medical marijuana initiative off the District ballot.With more than 18,000 members and 120,000 e-mail subscribers nationwide, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States. MPP works to minimize the harm associated with marijuana—both the consumption of marijuana and the laws that are intended to prohibit such use. MPP believes that the greatest harm associated with marijuana is imprisonment. For more information, please visit: http://www.MarijuanaPolicy.org
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