City Settles in Death Of Paralyzed Inmate
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
The mother of a quadriplegic inmate who died in 2004 after suffering breathing problems at the D.C. jail has reached financial settlements with the District government and his care providers, her attorneys disclosed yesterday.
The settlements were reached in the controversial death of Jonathan Magbie, a 27-year-old Maryland man who was paralyzed from the neck down and used a mouth-operated wheelchair.
Magbie died four days into a 10-day jail sentence for possessing marijuana, which he said he used to ease the discomfort caused by his disability. The jail infirmary, where he was housed for several days, wasn't equipped with the ventilator he needed to breathe at night.
His death sparked several government investigations, which exposed major lapses in Magbie's care at the D.C. jail and Greater Southeast Hospital.
Attorneys for his mother, Mary R. Scott, declined to provide details of the financial settlement, which she reached with the city, private contractors and the insurance company that covered doctors at the hospital. The American Civil Liberties Union, which represented Scott, called the settlement "substantial" in a news release.
As part of the settlement, the District government changed the way officials screen and handle inmates with medical problems and disabilities, Scott's attorneys said.
"The family's concern was to make certain that, to the extent anyone can prevent it, that this terrible type of event never happens again," said Elizabeth Alexander, an ACLU lawyer who represented Scott. "A series of people dealt with this young man, and every single place where something could go wrong, it did go wrong."
Scott declined to comment through her attorneys. She filed a federal lawsuit in 2005 that accused the District government, Greater Southeast, three contractors and more than a dozen corrections officers, doctors and nurses of negligence in Magbie's death.
A spokeswoman from the D.C. government said she could not comment until looking into the matter. Greater Southeast is under new ownership and has been renamed United Medical Center. A spokeswoman for Corrections Corporation of America, which runs a portion of the D.C. jail where Magbie was held, declined to comment. Representatives of two other contractors did not return phone messages seeking comment.
Magbie's ordeal began Sept. 20, 2004, when D.C. Superior Court Judge Judith E. Retchin sentenced him to jail after he pleaded guilty to possessing marijuana. D.C. police found a gun and marijuana in Magbie's pockets in April 2003 after stopping a vehicle driven by a cousin of his. Magbie admitted buying the marijuana, records show.
Magbie's mother was furious that the judge did not give her son probation, the typical punishment for first-time offenders. Magbie, paralyzed since being hit by a drunk driver at age 4, had no criminal record. Retchin told a judicial commission that she sentenced Magbie to jail because he said he would continue to smoke marijuana to alleviate his pain. She also told the commission that she was unaware that he needed a ventilator to breathe at night. The commission cleared Retchin of wrongdoing.
Because of his condition, Magbie was supposed to be housed in the jail's infirmary, according to an investigation by the D.C. inspector general. Magbie was taken to a hospital for "respiratory distress" and returned to the jail infirmary, which didn't have a ventilator, the report said. Jail doctors did not perform a follow-up examination and did not always conduct daily rounds to check on patients, including Magbie, the report said.
Magbie ate and drank very little during the next few days, the report stated. On Sept. 24, 2004, he was having respiratory problems, and paramedics were called, the report said. They found him to be "unresponsive and very sweaty," and his undergarment was "saturated with urine," the report said.
Paramedics told investigators that the trip to the hospital was delayed by about 30 minutes because the jail staff would not allow them to leave without the proper paperwork and without a blood sugar test, the report said.
At the hospital, Magbie was "acutely ill," according to the report. He died that night.