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Texas Pays $250,000 for Lingering Death of Teen Prisoner

In November 2006 the State of Texas paid $250,000 to settle with the family of Charles Billops, Jr., a teenager who died from an undiagnosed brain abscess caused by a sinus infection while imprisoned in 2003. The settlement was paid on behalf of the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB), the prison?s health care provider.

Billops was just 17 when he was sentenced to two years for burglary and violating his probation for auto theft. Upon his arrival at the Clemens Unit on January 21, 2003, Billops weighed a hefty 190 pounds. But by the time he died 100 days later, the once-healthy 6 foot, 3 inch teen was a near-skeletal 138 pounds. He was never seen by a doctor.

Billops? symptoms began during his fifth week at the prison when he complained of a sore throat and runny nose. A nurse recommended antihistamines and sent him back to his cell. A month later Billops was still suffering from the same symptoms and had lost 18 pounds. The nurse simply told him to keep taking the antihistamines.

Billops complained again on April 7; by then he was experiencing headaches and a bloody nasal discharge. A physician?s assistant prescribed more over-the-counter antihistamines.

Over the next few weeks his symptoms mounted: a toothache, earache, stuffy nose and bloody saliva. This time, without examining Billops, a physician?s assistant prescribed eardrops and antibiotics.

In mid-April 2003, after getting into a fight with another prisoner, the now 166-pound Billops was placed in segregation. To their credit, prison guards were more concerned about Billops? health than the medical staff.
As his condition worsened the guards grew concerned, and when he fell in the shower on April 25 and couldn?t get up, they took him to the infirmary.

The guards ?were doing their job,? said attorney Steve DeWolf, who represented Billops? father. ?They were calling the alarms out: ?There?s a problem with this guy.? And the medical system turned a blind eye.?

Medical staff performed an EKG, referred Billops to a psychologist because he hadn?t been eating, and sent him back to his cell.

On April 29 Billops was again taken to the infirmary ? this time by stretcher ? after a guard grew concerned about his appearance and incoherent speech. A physician?s assistant, again without examining him, ordered lab work.

The next day Billops could not even lift his head. He was transferred to the prison hospital in Galveston where he was treated for dehydration, and ordered moved to one of the prison system?s mental health units.

Four hours later, when guards arrived at the hospital to transport him, ?Offender Billops appeared to be asleep,? a prison report stated. A guard lifted Billops? hand ?and noticed that it did not fall back as he let it go.?

Billops had been dead for so long that ?he was rigid,? said DeWolf.
DeWolf noted that what happened to Billops could easily happen again, despite the $250,000 settlement. ?His death, because of our legal constraints, will not make a difference.?

?I don?t think that UTMB, a multimillion-dollar company, is going to change their evil ways ? unless they are sent a message,? said DeWolf. Damages in the case were capped at $300,000 under state law. See: Billops v. Sandoval P.A.C., USDC SD TX, Case No. 4:05-cv-00530.

Additional Source: Dallas Morning News

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Related legal case

Billops v. Sandoval P.A.C.