By Ruben Castaneda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 5, 2008
Demetri R. Stover was in the Prince George's County jail awaiting trial on charges he stole $60 worth of merchandise from a grocery store when another inmate punched him. Stover fell to the ground. He was found convulsing in his cell less than four hours later; within a week, he was dead.
But as authorities sought to prosecute the inmate who hit Stover, evidence emerged that Stover's subsequent treatment at the jail might have contributed to his death. Stover, 46, was evaluated and released from the medical ward in about five minutes.
The inmate who punched him, Octuan Gant, was initially charged with manslaughter but pleaded guilty to second-degree assault. He is to be sentenced today.
His attorney said in court that he and the prosecution "agree the facts would not show that the injury resulting in [Stover's] death was directly linked to the conduct of the defendant."
"The evidence would have shown other actions by the emergency response team and by medical personnel that were the direct link," attorney Michael D. Beach said.
Beach did not elaborate. Prosecutors did not dispute his claim. Both sides have since declined to comment on Beach's assertion.
A video recording of the Aug. 17, 2007, incident shows that the guards who tended to Stover, 46, after the assault handled him roughly as they took him to the medical ward. The video shows that Stover's evaluation lasted about five minutes.
"He did not get the right medical treatment," Stover's mother, Mary Fulwood, said yesterday. "I believe if he had gotten the medical treatment he needed, it would have been a different story. But he didn't, and that hurts me. What can you do in five minutes?"
Vernon Herron, the county's director of public safety, said Stover was examined by nurses with Correctional Medical Services, a county contractor.
"It is of great concern to us that Mr. Stover later died as a result of his injuries, and we have met with CMS and conveyed those concerns to them," Herron said in a statement.
A spokesman for the company declined to comment, citing patient confidentiality.
For reasons involving liability, the team of guards that responds to emergencies at the county jail is supposed to use a hand-held camera to document its actions. The recording of the Stover incident was reviewed by The Washington Post.
It shows Stover lying facedown on the ground, arms behind his back, as guards enter the housing unit. At one point, Stover wails in pain as a guard appears to press his left knee into the back of Stover's head or neck. The guards handcuff Stover and escort him away.
Next, Stover disappears behind a doorway. The guards, still in the frame, appear to shove him. A thud can be heard.
Stover is one of 16 inmates who have died at the jail since 2000. Nearly half of those deaths were homicides and suicides, putting the jail's mortality rate above those of some big cities, according to state and federal records.
The dead include Ronnie L. White, who was found asphyxiated in his cell in June, less than 48 hours after he was charged with murdering a police officer. His death has been ruled a homicide. A county grand jury is investigating.
Stover is not the only person jail officials have failed to treat for a head injury. On Nov. 1, Cpl. Onur Cinar, a jail officer, was struck by an inmate, fell to the ground and hit his head on the floor, according to court documents.
Although Cinar reported feeling dizzy, supervisors did not summon paramedics. Hours later, a fellow officer drove Cinar to a hospital, where he was treated and released. Three days after the attack, relatives found Cinar unconscious at his home. He was hospitalized in an intensive care unit and not released for 10 days.
Last year, Stover, who had a history of arrests for theft and drug possession, was in jail awaiting trial on theft charges. Gant, then 31, was awaiting trial on assault charges. Those charges were later dropped.
A little before 9 p.m. Aug. 18, Gant accused Stover of taking a doughnut from underneath Gant's bunk, charging documents say. Gant slugged Stover in the mouth. Stover went down, hitting his head on the cement floor, the documents say.
The video shows about 10 members of the response team lining up behind a door outside housing unit H-1. The officers enter the unit to find Stover and Gant both lying facedown, their hands behind their backs.
Two officers immediately go to Stover. As one appears to put his left knee into the back of Stover's head or neck, Stover begins to wail. Another officer is heard to say, "Shut the [expletive] up."
Stover and Gant are led to the infirmary. The camera is turned to a sergeant, who says Stover is not being cooperative. "No physical force other than pressure points has been used," the sergeant says.
The sergeant says the inmates arrived at the medical ward at 8:55 p.m. "It appears detainee Stover may have lacerations on his mouth. Not sure yet," he says. "The nurse is going to check him out."
Later, Stover appears in profile as he is led from the infirmary, and a large bump is clearly visible on the back of his head. The video shows officers escorting Stover and Gant to separate cells in another housing unit, and each is strip-searched off-camera. The camera turns to the sergeant, who gives the time as 9:07.
About 3 1/2 hours later, officers found Stover convulsing in his cell. He was flown by helicopter to Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore.
Stover died Aug. 24, 2007. Medical examiners ruled that he died of head injuries and declared his death a homicide.