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“Fuck Him, He Can Freeze”: Pennsylvania Detainee’s Death Detailed in Suit Against PrimeCare

A wrongful termination suit filed against jail healthcare profiteer PrimeCare Medical, Inc. on May 23, 2023, brought disturbing details to light in the death five months earlier of an elderly detainee at Pennsylvania’s Dauphin County Prison (DCP).

When Richard A. Carter, 63, was taken to the jail after a dispute at his ex-girlfriend’s home on the night of December 20, 2022, he had no way of knowing that he had just three more days to live. Carter, who suffered from COPD and used an oxygen tank, did not cooperate with PrimeCare staff during the medical intake process. Yet without even speaking to him, Dr. Robert Nichols, PrimeCare’s lead psychologist at the Harrisburg lockup, placed Carter on suicide watch.

According to a whistleblower complaint later filed, detainees placed on suicide watch in DCP “are stripped of their clothing and underwear and dressed in a smock made of tear-resistant material” before they are “placed in a suicide-resistant cell and offered no items of comfort.”

“They cannot shower or shave, and sometimes they are not even given toilet paper for fear that they might use it to harm themselves,” the complaint noted. “Meals arrive without utensils, forcing suicidal people to eat foods like pasta and rice with their hands.”

That is the situation in which Nichols left Carter on the night of December 23, 2022, according to Dr. Garrett Lee Rosas, a subordinate psychologist who filed the whistleblower claim. Rosas had worked for 20 years in a variety of settings before going to work for Primecare. Starting in 2022, he observed on several occasions that Nichols was putting detainees on suicide watch as punishment for not cooperating with the prison’s standard medical intake and evaluation procedures or other protocols. Rosas warned against this conduct, but Nichols largely ignored him. Rosas said he objected to the order for Carter, but Nichols callously replied, “Fuck him, he can freeze in that smock”—which is exactly what happened.

By the morning of December 24, 2022, after the coldest night of the year, Carter was dead. The European Respiratory Review warns that temperature extremes are particularly dangerous to people with COPD. Tragically for Carter, the temperature dropped from a high of 48 degrees to just six degrees before he died.

But his was not the jail’s only 2022 freezing death. As PLN reported, Jamal K. Crummel, 45, died in a cell that guards jokingly called “the freezer” on January 31, 2022, a period during the previous winter when other detainees also complained of cells that were “ice cold.” How cold? Guards wore winter coats while making their rounds. Prisoners with enough in their commissary accounts bought thermal shirts and extra socks. [See: PLN, Mar. 2023, p.46.]

County officials did not release a cause or manner of death for Carter. Dr. Rosas was on planned vacation that week, but when he returned to DCP he was surprised to find himself under investigation for failing to place a different detainee on suicide watch the same day Carter was booked. The detainee in question, D.C., had a documented interaction with Dr. Rosas during which no suicidal tendencies whatsoever were noted. Dr. Rosas communicated both verbally and in writing to Primecare Medical administrators that Dr. Nichols was the “driving force” behind a “sham investigation into the alleged incident with D.C.,” as his complaint later recalled.

On January 10, 2023, Rosas was terminated, after which he sued in state Court of Common Pleas, alleging retaliatory and wrongful termination for being a whistleblower. He is represented by attorney Brian C. Farrell with Sidney L. Gold & Assoc. in Philadelphia. See: Rosas v. PrimeCare Medical, Inc., Penn. Com. Pleas (Dauphin Cty.), Case No. 2023-cv-2671.  

Additional sources: Pennsylvania Advance Local Media, WPMT

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Related legal case

Rosas v. PrimeCare Medical, Inc.