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Another Prisoner’s Needless Death, Another Lawsuit at LaSalle-Run Texarkana Jail

The Texas Commission on Jail Standards has cited the jail and its operator numerous times for noncompliance in connection to the deaths of multiple prisoners, yet LaSalle continues to be awarded the contract, and little has changed.

Holly Barlow-Austin, 46, was arrested for a probation violation on April 5, 2019. She required medication for HIV, depression and bipolar disorder, as well as a medication to prevent a potentially deadly fungal infection due to her highly compromised immune system. During intake, her blood pressure was 118/73, her other vitals were normal, and she was able-bodied, hydrated and well nourished. She informed LaSalle medical staff of her medication needs.

Jail staff failed to provide the needed medication and on April 8, 2019, Barlow-Austin’s husband brought her prescription medications to the jail and gave them to LaSalle medical staff. Four days later, she received her first dose, but was given only her HIV and depression medications.

The next day, she submitted a medical request form—the first of many—stating that she had developed a headache, dizziness, and a knot on her neck. The next day, she was seen by a LaSalle nurse who noted her blood pressure as 134/83. She told the nurse about her medical issues and that she could not move her right leg. The nurse had her placed in a medical observation cell.

She received her antifungal medication for the first time at the jail on April 17, 2019. After almost two weeks, it was too late. The medication could prevent fungal infections. It could not treat a raging fungal infection.

During the ensuing 55 days, Barlow-Austin’s health visibly and obviously deteriorated. She complained of constant debilitating headaches, she lost the use of her legs, and she became blind.

Her blood pressure rose and rose on the few occasions LaSalle medical personnel bothered to see her or measure it. By April 10, it was 156/85, on May 1, it was 162/85, the next day it was 160/90 — and by June 10, it was 177/123 with 130 heart beats a minute — obvious signs of severe medical distress.

She was left in her “medical observation” cell alone and often without observation.

Nurses talked to one another about how she was “faking it” and guards zoomed by, noting down the required cell checks on their electronic logbooks without even looking into the cell window. Video recordings showed the callous indifference with which she was treated.

Her vision blurred, then got worse and worse. By May 19, she could not stand. A blood draw on May 31 showed a CD4 cell count of 84, which meant she had no functioning immune system. By June, she was completely blind. All the while, she suffered from excruciating headaches.

Staff opened her door slot to deliver food, water, or medication without saying a word to her. Writhing in pain on the filthy floor, her physical, visual, and cognitive impairments made it impossible for her to find the door. Staff took the food, water, or medication away and wrote down that she had refused it. The medical staff ignored her for weeks on end.

She became thirsty and begged for water — and was ignored. Her clothing, and her bedding became matted with filth. She could not even stand, could barely crawl and moaned in pain all day and night.

Finally, on June 11, 2019, she was taken to a hospital. Her pupils were fixed and dilated in blindness. She was not oriented to time, place or person. She showed signs of severe dehydration and malnutrition.

LaSalle did not tell her family where she was. When they finally found out, LaSalle guards would not let the family visit the dying woman until the sheriff personally intervened at the hospital. On June 17, 2019, she died. The hospital listed the cause of death as fungemia/sepsis due to fungal infection, cryptococcal meningitis, HIV/AIDS and accelerated hypertension, all of which could have been treated had she received proper medical care in time.

Aided by attorneys Erik J. Heipt and Edwin S. Budge of Seattle, Washington, and Texarkana attorney David Garcia, Barlow-Austin’s husband and estate filed the federal civil rights lawsuit alleging LaSalle had a practice of denying jail prisoners medical treatment and accusing them of “faking,” the county had abrogated its responsibility to provide prisoners with adequate medical care, and jail staff were deliberately indifferent to Barlow-Austin’s serious medical needs. The complaint cited numerous other deaths caused by denial of medical care at LaSalle-operated jails, including the Bi-State Jail.

“LaSalle has a corporate culture of treating all inmates as fakers,” Heipt told HuffPost. “When inmates report medical problems, LaSalle guards and nurses accuse them of feigning illness or distress—even when they are displaying objectively abnormal vital signs and symptoms. This has led to multiple deaths at the Bi-State Jail and other LaSalle-run facilities. And it played a role in the death of Holly Barlow-Austin.” See: Mathis v. Southwestern Correctional, Case No. 5:20-cv-00146, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Tex.). 


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Related legal case

Mathis v. Southwestern Correctional