The death of a prisoner who had stayed in the Fairfax County jail and a published statement by Sheriff James D. Swinson that "people will die there again" brought criticism yesterday of medical treatment at the jail and calls for Swinson's resignation.
Fairfax County Supervisor Alan H. Magazine (D-Mason) said he was appalled by Swinson's remark and his management of the jail. "The jail is poorly managed by a person who doesn't give a damn about the people in it," Magazine said.
Magazine and Supervisor Audrey Moore (D-Annandale) called for Swinson, an elected official, to resign.
The Board of Supervisors has initiated an investigation into the death of Donald L. Ferguson, a 28-year-old construction worker who died in December of kidney failure after a four-day stay in the jail. Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. said he will report on the investigation to the supervisors on Monday.
Ferguson was the third black inmate in the past six months to die after confinement in the jail.
Residents of Gum Springs, the county's largest black community, called a press conference yesterday to criticize Swinson's management of the jail and to announce hearings next week into Ferguson's death.
Rep. Herbert E. Harris II (D-Va.), Supervisor Warren I. Cikins (D-Mount Vernon) and State Sen. Joseph V. Gartlan (D-Fairfax) are scheduled to listen to testimony and ask questions at the hearings, to be held Feb. 2 and 3, according to a spokesman for the Gum Springs residents.
Swinson, bristling at criticism from Gartlan and four members of the Board of Supervisors, said yesterday his critics are not acquainted with the facts.
"It is very easy to sit and Monday-morning quarterback when the shoe is not on your foot," the sheriff said.
Swinson has said Ferguson was denied prescription medicine while in jail and was given sedatives for which proper records were not kept. He also said the prisoner, suffering from acute alcohol withdrawal, was put in handcuffs and leg irons and held for two days in a small padded cell where he lay amid spilled food and his own urine.
Such treatment, according to Dr. William Allerton, director of mental health and alcohol treatment for Fairfax, is "not appropriate."
"Anyone with serious alcohol with-drawal problems should be under supervision of an alcohol treatment program," Allerton said. Such treatment is available at Fairfax Hospital, where 11 beds are reserved for detoxification treatment, he said.
Swinson said yesterday the decision was made in the jail on Dec. 4 to keep Ferguson there until he could be committed to Western State Hospital in Staunton, Va., where there are also faciliies for detoxification treatment.
Swinson agreed that Ferguson should have been sent to Fairfax Hospital, but added such a decision is a "judgmental situations" involving the jail staff. He said that since last December the jail has handled 162 similar cases and that it is difficult to make the right decisions on every inmate.
"Ferguson received as sympathetic treatment as anyone would have received," the sheriff said.
Swinson, 668 who has been sheriff for 15 years, said yesterday that he can understand why the people of Gum Springs and members of Ferguson's family are angry. He said he will attend the hearings next week and invited Ferguson's relatives to come and talk with him.
The sheriff said he has yet to determine if Ferguson went without food for nearly two days in the jail, as has been claimed. He said also that he has not decided on what discipline, if any, will be imposed on jail medics who failed to give Ferguson prescribed medication.
"I don't play to the grandstand," the sheriff said. "I'm not intimidated by threats and I'm not going to make anybody the scapegoat. I have enough pure backbone in me that I'll do what I have to do."