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Lawsuits filed over Oregon Jail Death

The mother of a deceased prisoner has sued jail and hospital officials over the death of her son at the Marion County Jail (MCJ) in Salem, Oregon.

On June 14, 2010, Robert Haws was arrested for several criminal offenses and a probation violation, according to court records. He was held at the MCJ pending trial.

A month later, Haws was playing basketball with other prisoners at 9:30 a.m. During an argument, fellow prisoner Robert Dailey punched Haws in the jaw, knocking him unconscious and causing his head to hit the concrete floor. Dailey and the other prisoners fled.

Guards did not witness the altercation or see Haws lying unconscious on the basketball court. Approximately fifteen minutes later, Dailey and a few other prisoners returned to check on him.

They dragged Haws to the edge of the court and propped him up. He was barely conscious, vomiting and urinating on himself and bleeding from the nose. Unbeknownst to guards, one prisoner made several trips to the laundry room to replace Haws’ bloody clothing.

Guards did not notice Haws on the video monitor until 10:40 a.m. When they finally responded, he was disoriented, unresponsive and exhibiting signs of delusion, according to a federal lawsuit filed by his mother, Diane Bernard. See: Bernard v. Myers, U.S.D.C. (D. Ore.), Case No. 11-cv-00608-HZ.

Haws was handcuffed and taken to segregation by wheelchair. Guards later placed him in leg restraints, even as he continued to vomit and bleed from his mouth and nose. Jail officials finally called 911 sometime after 11:15 a.m., and paramedics arrived fifteen minutes later.

“Security officers and medical staff present said that Haws probably had a seizure and conducted no medical exam for evidence of trauma or other causes,” the suit alleged.

A jail nurse told paramedics that Haws may have suffered a seizure, and a guard who rode in the ambulance falsely informed paramedics that Haws had been suicidal two days prior to the incident and “had lots of access to over-the-counter drugs.” His medical history and symptoms did not support those claims, and the possibility of head trauma was never discussed.

Haws finally reached the emergency room at Salem Health about 12:00 p.m. but his condition was not classified as a true emergency. Doctors treated Haws “as if he were an overdose patient despite the rather ample evidence of head trauma,” according to court records.

In a separate state court suit, Bernard alleged that hospital employees were negligent in diagnosing and treating her son. She claimed, for example, that Haws remained chained to a gurney, without a head scan, from noon until evening.

“A critical factor in overall outcome from acute subdural hematoma is the timing of operative intervention,” the lawsuit stated. “Those operated on within four hours of injury may have mortality rates as low as 30 percent. Those operated on after four hours of sustaining the injury have mortality rates around 90 percent.”

“The hospital allowed him to languish for about nine hours in the ER,” said Michelle Burrows, a longtime prisoners’ rights attorney who represents Bernard. “That is somewhat inexplicable by the hospital.”

When an X-ray was finally performed at about 7:00 p.m., it revealed that Haws had a subdural hematoma. He was rushed into emergency brain surgery but emerged five hours later in a coma; he remained on life support for four days and died a week after the surgery.

“Defendants failed to adequately evaluate and diagnose [Haws] by assuming facts not present and treating [him with] less than the standard of care, because [he] was an inmate,” the suit filed by his mother alleged.

When Haws was admitted, hospital staff misidentified him as having come from the Oregon State Penitentiary, according to court documents. While such a mistake may seem innocuous, the evidence suggested that the lack of adequate care provided to Haws was the result of prisoner bias and mistreatment by hospital staff. A jail nurse admitted during her deposition testimony that she had debated sending Haws to a different hospital because she had “so many long-term concerns with Salem Health and the way they treat prisoners.”

Bernard is suing the hospital and its staff for medical malpractice, wrongful death and civil rights violations for the delay in providing adequate medical care. She said she filed separate actions because she did not want to sue the Marion County Sheriff’s Office in Marion County Circuit Court, and wasn’t sure if a suit against the hospital and staff could be brought in federal court.

A jury trial has been requested in both cases. Unsurprisingly, both hospital spokesman Mark Glyzewski and sheriff’s office spokesman Don Thomson declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.

The case in federal court was remanded to the Marion County Circuit Court in May 2013, where it remains pending with a status hearing scheduled for June 3, 2014. See: Bernard v. Salem Health, Marion County Circuit Court (OR), Case No. 12C18741.

Robert Dailey ultimately pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide for causing Haws’ death, and was sentenced to five years in prison.

Source: Statesman Journal

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