Two inmate deaths raise questions on Allegheny County Jail health care contractor
January 9, 2015 12:00 AM
Frank Smart, 39, died Monday.
Clarence Jewett Jr. of the West End was arrested Dec. 16, and after 10 days at the Allegheny County Jail, the 62-year-old was dead.
By Molly Born and Rich Lord / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
An outburst of obscenity led to the arrest of Clarence Jewett Jr. as he tried to enter his own apartment, and after 10 days at the Allegheny County Jail, the 62-year-old man was dead.
Mr. Jewett had a history of mental health problems, but his family knew of no life-threatening health condition he may have suffered.
Mr. Jewett brings to seven the number of jail inmates who died in 2014. That’s roughly one death per 350 people in the average daily population, a mortality rate that is about double the average for jails nationally.
Another inmate died Monday. The attorney for that inmate, Frank Smart, 39, suggested the jail did not provide medicine for his epilepsy.
County officials have maintained that health care in the jail is improving and declined to comment Thursday on the recent deaths, citing medical privacy laws. A spokeswoman for Corizon, the Tennessee-based firm that has run the jail infirmary for 16 months, declined to comment.
Mr. Jewett of the West End was arrested Dec. 16 when Pittsburgh police Officer Jason Lloyd saw him standing on a sidewalk, “screaming obscenities,” according to the police affidavit. The officer “ordered him to stop screaming the obscenities” and intended to cite him for disorderly conduct, according to the affidavit. When Mr. Jewett attempted to go home, the officer followed him to his apartment door.
“I grabbed Jewett’s shirt, and attempted to pull him away from the door [to his apartment], but he did not budge and pushed my hand off his shirt sleeve,” according to the affidavit. Officer Lloyd then waited until backup arrived, and he and five others, including two detectives, forcibly arrested Mr. Jewett. One officer hurt his back during the arrest, during which Mr. Jewett attempted to pull away and drop to the sidewalk, and was “calling us ‘racists’ and ‘KK’ repeatedly,” the affidavit states.
At the jail, the officer wrote, Mr. Jewett “was immediately placed into the restraint chair.”
Pittsburgh public safety spokeswoman Sonya Toler said that Allegheny County Police were investigating, but that the city officer had been been cleared of wrongdoing.
“I talked with a couple of people at the jail, but they said they can’t tell me anything,” said Cynthia Jewett, one of his four children, who lives in Alabama.
“Physically, he was in good health,” she said. “He had schizophrenia, but he’s a great person … .”
Mr. Jewett died Dec. 26 at UPMC Mercy. Autopsy results were incomplete pending the results of toxicology and tissue tests, according to the medical examiner’s office.
Mr. Jewett had a history of occasional arrests, which typically happened when he lapsed from his medication for schizophrenia, according to family members and his attorney, Emanuel J. Oakes Jr. A social worker recommended he be committed to Torrance State Hospital in Westmoreland County in 2013, according to court records. That August, he refused to leave his cell for a preliminary hearing on charges of defiant trespass and resisting arrest.
“Any time he went off his meds, he most likely was in a very confused state,” Mr. Oakes said. “Never any violent behavior. Resistant to the police, perhaps.”
The cause and manner of death for Smart of the Hill District also is pending test results, according to the medical examiner’s office.
Smart was charged Saturday with theft by deception and other crimes, after police said he used counterfeit bills to buy tickets to the Steelers-Ravens game from a scalper. He was taken to the jail that evening and died Monday at UPMC Mercy.
His attorney, Lee Rothman, said he “had a seizure disorder his entire life. … It’s my understanding that he was complaining of needing medication or else he’d have a seizure, and they said he would have to wait until Monday.”
“It appears that there was some medical treatment done for him at the jail, but it may not have been proper.”
Smart also was awaiting trial on separate charges of selling marijuana that were filed in September. Over 20 years, he was convicted of repeated drug possession with intent to deliver, recklessly endangering another person, marijuana possession, tampering with evidence and driving with a suspended license. His family told Mr. Rothman they were not available to comment.
Corizon told the Post-Gazette last month that it provides nursing staffing above that required in its contract with the county. Corizon’s level of physician coverage, though, is much lower than that once provided by Allegheny Correctional Health Services, a nonprofit arm of the health department that ran the infirmary through August 2013.
Warden Orlando Harper said that Corizon provides one full-time and one part-time physician, plus a psychiatrist. Allegheny Correctional had three full-time physicians and two part-timers, plus two full-time and one part-time psychiatrist.
Corizon declined a request for an interview with the jail’s new interim medical director, internist Abimbola Talabi. Dr. Talabi replaced physician Michael D. Patterson, who died Nov. 26. She told the county’s Jail Oversight Board in December that the firm has been improving in the jail. Questioned by one board member, Dr. Talabi said the jail needed more doctors to handle the inmate population but declined to give numbers.
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