The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Another drug war tragedy

Kansas police have cleared themselves of any wrongdoing in the death of Brenda Sewell. The 58-year-old woman died in a Lawrence Goodland jail cell after she and her sister were pulled over and arrested for possession of marijuana. From KMBC in Kansas City:

Relatives of Brenda Sewell of Kansas City, Missouri, contend that jailers in Sherman County in western Kansas refused to give her prescription medication and were slow to help after she collapsed in her cell. Sewell was 58 when she died Jan. 22.
Sherman County Attorney Charles Moser released the police investigative file exclusively to the Lawrence Journal-World this month, the newspaper reported. The report showed that Douglas County Attorney Charles Branson was brought in to review the case and found that the correctional officers overseeing Sewell didn’t commit a crime.
The file said Sewell vomited more than two dozen times over 15 hours. After being taken to a medical center and given intravenous fluids and anti-nausea medicine, she was returned to her cell. The next morning she was sick again, began having seizures and stopped breathing.
Sewell suffered abdominal hemorrhaging when her spleen ruptured, according to an autopsy report. Contributing factors to the rupture included vomiting and abdominal retching, the autopsy found.
Sewell’s family doesn’t understand why she wasn’t provided better, faster medical treatment. Sewell suffered from several autoimmune diseases including fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis and Sjogren’s syndrome, her family said. She also had thyroid disease, high blood pressure and Hepatitis C, the family said.
Among Sewell’s prescriptions were pain and muscle relaxant medications prescribed to deaden the pain that some of the diseases caused.
“I firmly believe she would be alive today if they had just listened instead of treating (her and his aunt) like hardened criminals,” said Sewell’s son, Aaron Ray. “Everything about this was absurd.”

Or better yet, stop putting people in cages for possessing a plant in the first place. Neither Sewell nor her sister had any prior criminal history. According to relatives, the two women had driven to Colorado to see whether marijuana might help treat some of Sewell’s symptoms, such as her nausea and loss of appetite. For the crime of trying to see whether pot could help treat her illnesses, Sewell was left to die of them.

It also took several months and a change to Kansas’s open-records laws for Sewell’s family to get any answers about her death. (Not surprisingly, Sewell’s sister’s account of their time in jail differs significantly from the account in the investigation.)

As I wrote in a post in July, Sewell is far from the first person to be neglected in a jail cell after an arrest for pot possession. She also isn’t the first person to die due to that neglect.