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Medication Discontinuation by Private Medical Vendor Affects Administration of Justice

A private medical vendor’s discontinuation of a pre-trial detainee’s psychotropic medication in the middle of a double-homicide trial was being called government misconduct that merited dismissal of the charges.

Michael John Pierce, 39, suffers from schizophrenia. He was charged in the murders of two people in their Quilcene, Washington residence in 2009. Pierce, who has heard voices since age 8 and has been diagnosed with a host of severe mental illnesses on the schizophrenic spectrum, was convicted in 2010 of the murders.

His conviction was reversed based upon a violation of his right to an attorney, and prosecutorial misconduct. When it was uncovered that a seated juror may have been a witness after revealing she saw someone matching Pierce’s description near the murder scene, the second trial was halted.

The case was moved from Jefferson County to Kitsap County to assure a fair trial. Upon arrival at the Kitsap County Jail (KCJ) on February 21, 2014, Jefferson County corrections officials hand delivered Pierce’s medications, which included two anti-psychotic and several non-psychotropic medications.

He then went into the care of KCJ’s medical contractor, Conmed. It had a “bridge” policy that allowed continuation of psychotropic medications for 14 days and other medications for 30 days, which allowed its staff to determine whether the medications needed to be continued or adjusted.

Conmed’s psychiatrist visited KCJ on Tuesdays, and Pierce was to see him on March 4. That day, however, Pierce was in court. As a result, Pierce’s psychotropic medications ran out on March 8 through March 10, subjecting him to severe withdrawal symptoms from cold turkey discontinuation of the high doses of the psychotic drug Geodon.

During a recorded telephone call to his brother, Pierce said the effect was “horrific.” Symptoms included sweating and twitching. “I couldn’t focus,” a transcript of the call records Pierce saying. “I was paranoid. . . All I could do was look at the floor and drool, you know?”

When Conmed won the $1.4 million contract with KCJ, it called the award a business victory. “Kitsap County’s inmate population fits extremely well into our medical service profile, as we seek to partner with counties that have low exposure to chronic illnesses, relatively young and healthy inmates who are at low litigation risks,” company president Richard W. Turner stated.

Conmed called the medication mishap “a series of unfortunate errors” that had nothing to do with cost saving on expensive psychotropic medications. Since the incident, it has revised its “bridge” policy to 30 days on all medications.

Pierce’s trial was stopped after it was discovered he was suffering medication withdrawal. His attorney argued the discontinuation of the medication amidst trial amounted to gross government misconduct that barred a retrial.

“The only event in this case that merits the adjective ‘barbarous’ is the execution of two innocent people while they were lying on their kitchen floor,” countered Christ Ashcroft, Jefferson County’s deputy prosecutor.

Superior Court Judge Sally Olsen ruled that despite the medication errors, the criminal charges could proceed.

While most reports of medical malfeasance by private medical vendors typically involve harm to the prisoner, this case demonstrates how the administration of justice can be affected. It’s an often overlooked point.

In November 2014, Pierce was found guilty of the murder charges, and the following month he was sentenced to 117 years in prison.

Source: Kitsap Sun

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