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$1 Million Settlement in Atlanta Detainee’s Death From Untreated Diabetes

A $1 million settlement was reached in May 2019 in a lawsuit alleging the Atlanta City Detention Center (ACDC) left a pretrial detainee in an unlit confinement cell to die from untreated diabetes.

When Wickie Yvonne Bryant, 55, was booked into ACDC on September 14, 2015, it was noted that she suffered from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, diabetes, and hypertension. She said that she was taking medication for all three diagnoses. An intake test revealed an “extremely elevated blood-glucose level” of 353 mg/dl, but she refused to take insulin, saying it made her sick.

She was subsequently prescribed Metformin, an oral diabetic medication. Yet, from her intake until October 5, 2015, Bryant refused her “diabetic treatment,” which meant blood testing and medication. She submitted a request on September 20 advising officials about her medical and mental health treatment at several medical facilities.

Despite laying out her history of care regimen, ADCD’s medical staff never requested that information, nor did they offer mental health care. Her refusal to take medication for two straight days required staff, per ACDC policy, to inform a doctor to examine Bryant. That, however, never happened.

Then, on October 5, guard Marian Bullard-Whitaker moved “Bryant from her fully, functional, lit cell . . . to a dark, unlit cell … where the lights had not worked for several years.” That move was made contrary to ACDC policy that required a supervisor to approve such a move. Bryant continued to refuse diabetic treatment and was not offered mental health treatment or other medical care.

She did not eat her breakfast on the morning of October 12. The civil rights complaint alleged that it appeared to the detainee who delivered and picked up Bryant’s lunch tray that she lacked “the strength to get up from her bed, where she was lying, without any clothes on, to return the food tray.” No guard or medical staff checked on her condition.

The next morning Bryant left her breakfast tray untouched, and staff reported that she was unresponsive that day. They said they believed she was sleeping. While there were feces and water on the floor in front of her cell, no one “investigated whether Ms. Bryant had bowel issues or if she was physically ill.”

Throughout the day, Bryant was “unresponsive and lying in the same position,” but no one conducted an investigation or opened the cell to check on her well-being. Finally, around 7:24 p.m., three guards realized “Bryant was completely unresponsive and her body was already stiff.”

The medical examiner arrived in less than an hour. “I asked if she was taking medications while in jail and what her history was,” wrote Fulton County Medical Examiner Office investigator Betty Honey. “No one could tell me about her history or if meds were given while she has been there.”

An autopsy found that Bryant died from diabetic ketoacidosis. Since 2008, 11 men and one woman have died in Georgia jails and prisons from diabetic ketoacidosis. “Unfortunately, that statistic is not surprising to me,” said Sarah Fech-Baughman, director of litigation for the American Diabetes Association (ADA), “and is in line with what I would expect, based on what we hear from folks.”

Diabetes is such a pervasive problem in prisons that the ADA has written policies to guide prisoner care. It calls for “all levels of custody” to have access to medication and dosing consistent with their usual treatment plans. It further says staff must be trained to recognize and respond to acute health issues.

“I know it’s not easy working in a jail,” said Dr. Bruce Bode, an Atlanta diabetes specialist and Emory School of Medicine faculty member. “(Prisoners) can tell you anything and everything they want. But if it’s a medical issue, you’ve got to evaluate it, and diabetes is clearly something that has to be evaluated. If you don’t give them insulin, they’re going to die.”

The City of Atlanta approved the $995,000 settlement with Bryant’s estate on May 22, 2019. The estate was represented by the Pope, McGlamry, Kilpatrick, Morrison, and Norwood law firm. See: Sims v. City of Atlanta, USDC, N.D. Georgia, Case no. 1:17-cv-000519 


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Related legal case

Sims v. City of Atlanta