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Wrongfully Arrested for Murder, Prisoner Dies in California Jail; Corizon Loses Contract

by Matt Clarke

When police were notified about the death of Terry Cameron, 58, in March 2016, they quickly arrested her husband, Melvin Stubbs, 65. Stubbs was a diabetic amputee who used a wheelchair. Nonetheless, police said there were signs of a struggle, Stubbs and Cameron both had defensive wounds, Cameron’s face was covered with a pillow and the answers that Stubbs gave during police questioning were inadequate – sufficient evidence to justify his arrest, they claimed. But ninety minutes after Stubbs was booked into jail he was dead.

The Alameda County Coroner’s Office later determined the cause of Cameron’s death was not homicide but rather acute bacterial meningitis.

“What they did to him was horrible,” stated Manuel Primas, Stubbs’ former brother-in-law. “His last thought must’ve been, ‘My wife just died and I’m in here for murder.’ And then he died. That’s a hell of a way to go.”

Oakland police said Stubbs had not been answering questions about Cameron’s death very well, “due to what looks like a medical condition.” The symptoms of meningitis, a contagious disease, include mental confusion. But it wasn’t until they received the coroner’s report on Cameron’s death that Stubbs’ behavior began to “make sense,” said Oakland police Lt. Roland Holmgren. By then it was too late.

Stubbs had been taken to a hospital, where he was stabilized, prior to being transported to the Santa Rita Jail. He then died in the facility’s medical unit. Alameda County Sheriff’s Department officials, who operate the jail, refused to comment on his medical condition. But Lt. Holmgren defended his officers’ handling of Cameron’s death, noting that Stubbs had admitted in the hospital to having a physical altercation with his wife.

“The evidence was there,” he said, “there was more than enough reasonable suspicion” to justify Stubbs’ arrest.

At the time, Tennessee-based Corizon Health had a $237 million annual contract – the largest single contract awarded by Alameda County – to provide medical services at the Santa Rita Jail and Glenn E. Dyer Detention Facility. But the quality of Corizon’s health care was already under question at the time of Stubbs’ death.

As previously reported in PLN, Corizon settled a lawsuit in 2015 over the death of Santa Rita prisoner Martin Harrison, 49, for $8.3 million. The suit focused on an allegedly inadequate intake assessment, a botched diagnosis and the failure to hospitalize Harrison when he clearly needed medical care. [See: PLN, March 2015, p.54].

In early 2016, Corizon laid off 50 Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVNs), explaining they were unnecessary since the Harrison settlement called for Registered Nurses (RNs) to provide all intake assessment at the jail. At the time, however, the necessary RNs had not yet been hired, leaving severe shortages that resulted in “pandemonium” among the remaining medical staff.

Then in February 2016, Tanti Martinez filed a federal lawsuit over the death of her son, Mario Martinez, 29, at the Santa Rita Jail.

Mario had suffered from asthma since childhood. While incarcerated, he developed nasal polyps that interfered with his breathing by obstructing his airways. Corizon doctors noted the polyps had grown so severe that surgery was required. Instead of providing surgery, however, they refilled his asthma inhaler and gave him nasal spray. This went on for seven months despite Mario and Tanti’s increasingly desperate pleas for surgery. Mario suffered a fatal asthma attack two days before his thirtieth birthday in July 2015.

During Mario’s stay at the jail, his defense attorney obtained a court order instructing Corizon to treat the polyps. Mario was referred to an ENT clinic, which was denied by Corizon’s site director. The attorney pushed Corizon to act and even obtained a second court order, but the company maintained it was sufficient that Mario was seen in the jail clinic, given nasal spray and again referred to the ENT clinic.

He was finally seen by the ENT clinic, which noted the polyps created a “complete obstruction” and ordered a CT scan in preparation for surgery. But the surgery did not occur before Mario suffered a fatal asthma attack. Investigators also discovered a malfunctioning oxygen tank contributed to his death. The lawsuit filed by his family remains pending. See: Martinez v. Corizon Health, Inc., U.S.D.C. (N.D. Cal.), Case No. 3:16-cv-00881-JSW.

Corizon’s contract had been extended repeatedly without the bidding required by county policy. The company also donated $110,000 to the reelection campaign of Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern, who had recommended the contract extensions. Tanti Martinez publicly demanded the cancellation of Corizon’s contract, and was successful after she contacted county investigators, resulting in an investigation.

The Alameda County Board of Supervisors voted in August 2016 to award a new jail healthcare contract to Corizon competitor California Forensic Medical Group (CFMG), the state’s largest provider of correctional health services. [See: PLN, Feb. 2017, p.30].

The county’s new contract with CFMG requires the company to respond to court orders within 24 hours; it also imposes escalating fines if CFMG fails to abide by court orders, ranging from $1,000 for the first occurrence to $10,000 for the third. Hopefully, such provisions will prevent future needless deaths in Alameda County jails, such as those of Stubbs, Harrison and Mario Martinez, though CFMG has its own history of poor medical care. 



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Related legal case

Martinez v. Corizon Health