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Orleans Parish Sheriff, Wellpath, Sued Over Louisiana Jail Prisoner’s Fatal Overdose

by Matt Clarke

The mothers of three children of a prisoner who died of an overdose of fentanyl while incarcerated at the Orleans Justice Center, the Parish’s jail, have filed a lawsuit against employees of the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office (OPSO) and Wellpath (the jail’s contract provider of prisoner medical and mental health services), alleging they caused the prisoner’s death.

According to court documents, Edward Patterson was arrested on attempted murder charges in January 2015 and booked into the jail. On November 26, 2018, while still at the jail awaiting trial, he engaged in “abnormal behavior” after he was seen smoking an “unknown substance” and was taken to University Medical Center. By the time he arrived at the hospital, he had stopped displaying symptoms, so he was returned to the jail and to the same tier where he had obtained the drugs.

Five days later, another prisoner told jail staff that Patterson was unconscious on the floor of his cell. Instead of calling an ambulance, staff administered naproxen and performed CPR for a half-hour. Finally, they summoned emergency medical transportation. It was too late. He was pronounced dead after arriving at the hospital.

Aided by Metairie, Louisiana attorneys Wesley J. Blanchard and Eric J. Santana, the three mothers of Patterson’s three minor children filed a federal civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on November 27, 2019.

The lawsuit alleges OPSO and Wellpath employees failed to protect Patterson. The lawsuit specifically alleges that OPSO personnel failed to properly screen people being booked into the jail and Wellpath employees for drugs and that an unnamed Wellpath employee and a person booked into the jail smuggled into the jail the drugs that resulted in Patterson’s death.

It also alleged OPSO staff failed to properly monitor the prisoners’ living area, either in person or by video, and failed to prevent the overt used of drugs in the living area. It further alleged inadequate medical and mental health services at the jail, a lack of treatment for drug addiction, and inadequate training and supervision of personnel responsible for screening and monitoring prisoners and providing medical services.

Patterson was one of 20 prisoners who overdosed or were found unresponsive at the jail during six months in 2018, according to the report of federal court monitors in a previous civil rights action brought by the U.S. Department of Justice and Southern Poverty Law Center against OPSO that was settled by consent decree.

The monitors noted improvements in the provision of medical care at the jail but “lack of progress” in providing mental health services and acute medical care. During the same period, painkillers were found in the pocket of a prisoner who was transported to the hospital and two prisoners were given naloxone, a drug to counteract opioids, after being found unconscious. See: Johnson v. Gusman, USDC (E.D. La.), Case No. 2:19-cv-13949-MLCF-JCW. 


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Related legal case

Johnson v. Gusman