Judith E. Retchin, Associate Judge, D.C. Superior Court: "I checked with the Chief's [Chief Judge Rufus G. King III] office, and the jail should be able to accommodate all of his medical needs. I checked with them last week."
Boniface Cobbina, an attorney for Jonathan Magbie: "Very well."
The deputy clerk: "So he doesn't need to do a medical alert?"
Judge Retchin: "Yes. He [Mr. Cobbina] still should fill out the medical alert. I just wanted to make sure they would be able to attend to his needs."
-- Sept. 20 transcript from the court case of Jonathan Magbie
AND WITH THAT, the proceedings were concluded, and Jonathan Magbie, a 27-year-old quadriplegic who had been unable to breathe on his own since he was 4, was sent to a Corrections Department facility for 10 days for marijuana possession. Four days later he was dead. The short period between sentencing and his death is a story of what can happen when an impersonal system treats inmates as if they are nobodies with no one to turn to.
The marijuana charge was Mr. Magbie's first offense. He pleaded guilty to the charge but told the presentencing officials that using marijuana made him feel better and that he didn't believe there was anything wrong with using it. Judge Retchin also noted during sentencing that cocaine was found in Mr. Magbie's coat and a loaded gun in the car in which he was riding. Despite a recommendation of probation by the presentencing office and the lack of objection from the prosecution, Judge Retchin told Mr. Magbie that it was unacceptable to have a loaded gun in the city. "And I believe under all of the circumstances here, the appropriate sentence is ten days in jail [and] a Victim's Assessment of fifty dollars."
Then the buck-passing began. After arriving at the D.C. jail, Mr. Magbie was evaluated as needing "acute medical attention" and nearly nine hours later was shipped to Greater Southeast Community Hospital, which has handled inmate hospitalizations since the closure of D.C. General Hospital. Greater Southeast, however, discharged Mr. Magbie the next day and sent him to the Correctional Treatment Facility (CTF), another Corrections Department unit near the jail. A physician at the CTF concluded that Mr. Magbie belonged at the hospital and asked that he be taken back, but Greater Southeast refused. The physician then asked Judge Retchin to order the hospital to take Mr. Magbie, but the judge said she didn't have the power. And there at CTF Mr. Magbie stayed.
After his mother, Mary Scott, and his lawyer haggled with the medical staff for two days, she was finally permitted to bring his ventilator to the building. By the time Ms. Scott got there, her son had been taken back to Greater Southeast. He died that night.
On Friday, we asked the chief judge's office if the matter of Jonathan Magbie was closed or under review. The case is closed, we were told, but Chief Judge King has arranged a meeting with Odie Washington, director of the Corrections Department. They will review in detail the department's ability to handle different medical conditions at the jail, the CTF and Greater Southeast to make sure that judges fully understand the medical capacity of all Corrections Department facilities. If necessary, we were advised, the chief judge would arrange a training program for Superior Court judges.
But did Mr. Magbie deserve jail? Why was he sent to the hospital? Why did the hospital discharge him and refuse to take him back? Why did two days elapse before he could get his ventilator? Why is his case closed?