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Federal Detention Center in Chicago Agrees to $1 Million Wrongful Death Settlement

For over ten years defense attorneys and their clients in Chicago have complained about the quality of medical treatment for prisoners at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC), Chicago, located in a decaying 28-story high rise building on the outskirts of the central business district. In a 160-page opinion issued after a trial that documented in horrifying detail the sorry state of medical treatment in that facility, Chief U.S. District Judge Ruben Castillo castigated the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) for “breakdowns in administering vital medicine and (not) providing adequate medical care to inmates…” He awarded almost $1 million dollars in damages to the widow of a MCC prisoner who died because of BOP negligence. The BOP has appealed that decision.

With almost one thousand men and women jammed into fifteen floors of open dormitories and cells designed for one person now holding two, it is no place to be if you have a serious illness or chronic medical condition. For prisoner Habib Yori Solebo, the MCC turned out be his final destination. (See: PLN, December 2015, p.22.)

At the time of his death, the MCC was without either of its two licensed physicians, one of whom was on vacation and the other at a training conference, and the warden had not assigned anyone else to fill in their absence. Amazingly, although the MCC is located within short driving distance of several world-renowned medical facilities, the BOP was unable to find any licensed medical facility for the one thousand involuntary inhabitants of the MCC, who were completely dependent upon the BOP facility and its staff for their medical well-being.

Solebo, a married Nigerian immigrant with a young daughter, had been arrested in January of 2006 and charged with selling heroin to an undercover agent.  Like other prisoners awaiting trial or other disposition of his case in the overcrowded federal prison system, he had been held in Kankakee county jail, a Corrections Corporation of America contract facility for the BOP, after his arrest.

It was at that county jail that Solebo, who had been taking anti-seizure medication prior to his arrest, began to suffer health issues.  While there he fell off a top bunk and struck his head, according to prison medical records. He was then transferred to the MCC. In July and August of 2006, he began to show signs of ill health and alleged mental instability, and Judge Castillo, who ironically was also his criminal judge, ordered that he be transported to the prison medical facility in Rochester, Minnesota for an examination to determine his competency to stand trial and to review his other medical issues.  The BOP never complied with the judge’s order.

Judge Castillo then entered an additional order several months later, in December of 2006, that the “Bureau of Prisons and/or the U.S. Marshal expeditiously transport Habib Solebo to a medical facility outside of the Bureau of Prisons, so that Mr. Solebo may undergo a neurological examination which should include an MRI and any other test that the examiner deems appropriate in determining the cause of Mr. Solebo's seizures and black-outs.”  This order was never carried out.

A February, 2007 BOP-administered blood test that would have shown that Solebo had ceased taking the proper amounts of his medication was botched, according to trial testimony, failing to disclose the low level of the prescribed Dilantin that controlled his illness. Castillo’s opinion noted that the lab processing the MCC’s sample rejected it “because it was placed in the wrong type of tube.” A short time later, in May of 2007, Solebo passed away.

Like almost all BOP prisons, as a cost-saving measure the MCC relies upon the expertise of various medical support personnel, who received medical training out of the U.S. (and may be licensed physicians in their home countries), and have qualified as physician’s assistances and nurses, to provide most of the medical care.  They are allegedly supervised by the two physicians at the MCC who actually are licensed to practice medicine.  These same physicians are generally responsible for care and treatment of prisoners in the various prisons in the Midwest region of the BOP that do not have their own physicians (which is most of them). All medication given to prisoners in the district is prescribed in the name of the two MCC-based physicians, although they rarely, other than in their own facility, see the prisoner/patient. At the time of Solebo’s death, neither licensed physician was at the MCC.

Unfortunately, as the trial testimony in this matter indicated, the BOP lacked appropriate follow-up measures to monitor the results of blood tests after they came back from the lab or to determine whether an additional test was required, especially if the previous one was flawed. Testimony also showed that BOP Policies and Procedures designed to ensure that the decedent took his medication were not followed. This case, as well as others that did not receive this level of publicity, illustrates that there is apparently a BOP culture of deferring medical treatment, often with disastrous results.

Deaths in BOP facilities for similar cases of medical neglect are not uncommon. At FPC Duluth, several years ago, a prisoner who had been on heart medication when he came to prison, reported to the medical staff that he felt ill and was experiencing unexplained dizzy spells and blackouts. He was prescribed Tylenol, given two days off of his job assignment,  but was not referred for additional testing.  He then began to have unexplained nose bleeds, and was finally rushed to the local private hospital, where he expired of a brain hemorrhage that had occurred over the previous several days.  Litigation continues on that matter.

Solebo’s widow, who testified during the bench trail before Castillo, said that both she and her young daughter, born while her father was in BOP custody, had been struggling to cope.  “To have that taken away is just-it’s hard to face every day,” she said in court testimony.

The case settled in February 2014. See: Ford-Solebo v. United States, 9-CV-2287, Northern District of Illinois, 2013.

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