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Jury Awards Almost $900,000 to Dallas County Jail Stroke Victim

After a one week trial and a day of deliberation a federal jury awarded Stanley Shepherd $890,336 when a stroke he suffered, in the Dallas County jail, left him permanently paralyzed.

On October 4, 2003 Shepherd was admitted to Dallas County jail as a pre-trial detainee. He was still awaiting trial on January 22, 2004 when he sought medical attention for weakness and lightheadedness. Shepherd’s blood pressure at the time was 189/125 and his pulse was 95. Still, he was sent back to his cell without treatment.

Later that afternoon Shepherd was discovered on the floor of his cell convulsing from what appeared to be a seizure. Guards reported his condition to the medical department. Fifteen minutes dragged by before help arrived. Shepherd’s blood pressure was literally off the charts, too high to be recorded by the attending nurse. His pulse was 140.

From the time he was initially discovered it took nearly an hour to have Shepherd transferred, by ambulance, to Parkland Hospital. At 3:42 p.m. hospital attendants recorded his systolic blood pressure at over 700. Shepherd was hospitalized for 26 days after being diagnosed with an acute hemorrhagic stroke and pneumonia. During that time he suffered total paralysis to his left side and had to be fed through a tube.

Upon his release Shepherd was still being tube fed though he was able to receive some soft nourishment orally. Shepherd underwent almost four months of physical therapy before it was determined that “he had reached the maximum level of improvement attainable.” Even after therapy Shepherd still suffered from partial paralysis, speech, hearing and sight impairments, impotence, and severe depression accompanied by suicidal ideation.

In his suit Shepherd presented evidence that prior to his incarceration he led an active and productive lifestyle. He also proved that the Central Intake Evaluation Form used by the jail documented that be suffered from hypertension and that he required medication to treat his condition. Yet he received no medication for over a month and a half. Only after repeated attacks of elevated blood pressure was Shepherd able to obtain treatment in the jail.

Shepherd also presented evidence that nurses at the jail falsified records to make it appear he had received medication when he actually hadn’t. In their efforts to cover their tracks nurses recorded administering medication to Shepherd, at the jail, for four days after he had already been admitted to Parkland Hospital.

Shepherd filed his claim against the Dallas jail on July 20, 2005 pursuant to U.S.C. § 1983, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Dallas. Along with the general claim that he was denied proper medical care Shepherd’s suit alleges that no policy exists at the jail for incoming prisoners to receive medication for chronic conditions.

Prisoners with chronic conditions are not examined by physicians until their condition becomes critical. The suit also complains of inadequate sick call procedures, inadequate staffing levels, a dearth of qualified physicians and inadequate monitoring of chronically ill patients.

Prior to his collapse Shepherd was being housed in the Lew Sterrett Justice Center which has been at the center of several past controversies. County commissioners recently paid a $950,000 settlement to the families of three mentally ill prisoners. One portion of the settlement went to the family of Clarence Lee Grant Jr. who died in the jail in 2003. Grant had been denied his medication for five days prior to his death.

James Monroe Mims went 60 days without medication and was found critically dehydrated and near death after the water in his cell was shut off for two weeks. Several reports indicate that the Dallas County Jail has been well below acceptable standards for at least the past five years. A report released by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2006 attributed numerous deaths and injuries to the substandard conditions of the jail. The county is presently under federal court order to improve conditions.

Before jury deliberations began on August 25, 2008 the judge instructed them that Shepherd had the burden of proving that “the level of medical care provided generally at the jail was so inadequate that it resulted in a serious deprivation of his basic human needs.” The judge said that Shepherd also had the burden of proving that the “general conditions of confinement were a cause-in-fact of the damage that he suffered.”

After a day of deliberation the jury found that Shepherd had proved both claims and awarded him the money. See: Shepherd v. Dallas County, US DC, ND TX, Case No. 3:05-CV-1442-D.

Additional Source: Dallas Morning News

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Related legal case

Shepherd v. Dallas County