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Family of MCC Chicago Prisoner Settles Wrongful Death Claim for $700,000

Family of MCC Chicago Prisoner Settles Wrongful Death Claim for $700,000

by Derek Gilna

Federal prisoner Habib Solebo entered the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in Chicago, Illinois with a myriad of health problems despite his young age of 23, the most serious of which was a form of seizure disorder that required constant medical attention. Unfortunately, according to U.S. District Court Judge Ruben Castillo, “breakdowns in administering vital medication and providing adequate medical care” resulted in Solebo’s death, an award of damages to his wife and daughter, and an eventual settlement.

At the time that Solebo died in May 2007, neither of the two licensed physicians at MCC was at the facility, one being at a training conference and the other on vacation. No arrangements had been made to cover their absence. The warden at MCC was also away at a training conference when Solebo was found unresponsive in his cell.

Solebo had been arrested in 2006 for alleged drug crimes and held at a county jail. He began to have seizures, fell off his bunk and struck his head during one episode, and was prescribed the anti-seizure medicine Dilantin.

After Solebo was transferred to MCC, a physician’s assistant prescribed a stronger dosage of Dilantin as well as an MRI. The MRI was never performed. Judge Castillo, who by coincidence was also the presiding judge in the criminal case pending against Solebo, ordered that the MRI be conducted, stating, “The examination shall include an MRI and any other test that the examiner sees appropriate in determining the cause of the seizures and blackouts.” However, that test also was never carried out.

There were concerns that Solebo was not taking his medication. A blood test which might have shown he had depleted levels of Dilantin was rejected by the lab because it had been placed in the wrong tube. Shortly thereafter, Solebo died.

Medical care at MCC is well known to prisoners, their families and defense attorneys to be substandard at best. Although the facility is located mere blocks from a top-notch medical center, MCC has failed to follow best practices in caring for prisoners who are totally dependent upon jail staff for timely application of prescription medication and medical treatment.

Solebo’s widow, Dominique Ford-Sholebo, filed a wrongful death suit in 2009. She testified during a bench trial that her husband’s death had devastated both her and their daughter, who was born while he was in custody. “To have that [relationship] taken away is just – it’s hard to face every day,” she said.

In a September 3, 2013 memorandum opinion and order, the district court awarded a net judgment of $897,750 to Solebo’s daughter and $22,800 to his widow, for a total of $920,550. This reflected a 43% reduction from an initial judgment of $1.615 million, mainly due to Solebo’s contributory negligence for failing to take his medication.

“Certainly, it is this court’s hope that the appropriate MCC officials will carefully study this opinion to ensure that these breakdowns [in medical care] do not reoccur in the future,” Judge Castillo wrote.

The defendants appealed, but in early 2014 the appeal was remanded to the district court for resolution by settlement. The parties subsequently agreed to settle the case for $700,000, inclusive of $175,000 in attorney fees and $46,494.91 in costs. See: Ford-Sholebo v. United States, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Ill.), Case No. 1:09-cv-02287.

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Related legal case

Ford-Sholebo v. United States