Hypothermia Kills Prisoner in Cold Pennsylvania Jail Cell, One of 17 Deaths Since 2019
by Jo Ellen Nott
When Richard A. Carter, died in Pennsylvania’s Dauphin County Prison (DCP) on Christmas Eve 2022, officials released key details that showed they had not neglected him. A nurse visited the 63-year-old at 9:31 p.m. the night before he died, making sure he took his medication for a pre-existing medical condition. Jailers performed checks of his cellblock every 15 minutes. But there was also this: The temperature in his cell was 73.5 degrees Fahrenheit.
That information was no doubt announced because of Jamal K. Crummel’s death at the jail earlier in the year. The official cause of his death was myocardial fibrosis, or scarring of the heart. But hypothermia was listed as a significant contributing factor leading to death. Crummel wasn’t left outside in the winter cold; the temperature inside his cell was just 60 degrees Fahrenheit when he died.
Crummel’s demise can be traced to a fateful decision made a few months earlier, on the afternoon of September 15, 2021. After smoking pot, drinking alcohol and taking medication, the 45-year-old drove his car into a group of Pennsylvania State Troopers dressed in business attire as they entered Harrisburg’s Scottish Rite Cathedral to take a promotional exam.
All six escaped injury. Crummel told police after the incident that he intended to run the group over believing they were Harrisburg city officials. His bail was set at $150,000 on charges including six counts each of aggravated assault and reckless endangerment, plus one count of first-offense DUI.
All charges were held over at a preliminary hearing on October 13, 2021. Crummel remained in detention at the Dauphin County Prison (DCP) until he was hospitalized on December 19, 2021, after staff noted symptoms of hypothermia: altered mental state, lethargy, abnormal breathing, and slurred speech. Crummel suffered complications and became badly malnourished during his month-long hospital stay, finally returning to DCP on January 24, 2022.
A week later Crummel was in a single-person cell in the prison hospital ward when he died, wearing a short-sleeved jail uniform. He had been checked at 7:43 a.m. and 9:03 a.m. and on the second check refused his medication. Staff finding him performed CPR and administered an Automated External Defibrillator before emergency responders arrived. Yet Crummel was dead by 10:12 am.
Other detainees at the jail at the time also complained their cells were “ice cold.” Guards wore winter coats while making their rounds. Prisoners with enough in their commissary accounts bought thermal shirts and extra socks.
After learning that Crummel had been hospitalized for hypothermia and then returned to the same cold cell to die, John Hargreaves of the Pennsylvania Prison Society said, “The reason why he was in prison is not the issue. [Jailers] knew he was sick, and the question remains why he remained at the prison.”
PennLive journalist Joshua Vaughn researched the 16 prisoner deaths at DCP since 2019 before Carter’s. He found significant discrepancies between the information officials publicly released and jail records. The county then began denying his requests for records. Here are three other deaths at the lockup whose records don’t match what the jail reported.
August 20, 2020 – Herbert Tilghman, 46, officially died of complications from a stomach ulcer. But jail records showed Tilghman saw medical staff for stomach pains and was returned to his cell untreated. The next day, he collapsed in a shower. Even then, a jail captain wrote that Tilghman might be faking his symptoms. He was dead within 30 minutes.
August 29, 2020 – Jimmy King, 50, officially died of traumatic brain injury inflicted by his cellmate during a fight weeks earlier. But jail records also noted a second head injury in a second fight two weeks before his death, which was not publicly disclosed. Nor were King’s persistent complaints of headaches, dizziness and blurred vision, to which medical staff responded with a worthless head x-ray that couldn’t disclose a brain injury, anyway.
July 29, 2021 – Ishmail Thompson, 29, officially suffered a “medical emergency” at the jail and later died at a hospital. Left unsaid: Guards pepper-sprayed him and forced him into a restraint chair with a spit hood over his head minutes before he lost consciousness for the last time. County Coroner Graham Hetrick said the manner of death was “undetermined.” An independent medical examiner called it a homicide. On behalf of his estate, his nephew, JohnJuan White, filed suit in federal court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania in August 2022, blaming Thompson’s death on failures by the prison and its staff, as well as its privately contracted healthcare provide, PrimeCare Medical, Inc. White is represented by attorneys from Abramson & Denenberg in Phildelphia and The Chavez-Freed Law Office, LLC in Harrisburg. See: White v. Dauphin Cty., USDC, (M.D. Pa.), Case No. 1:22-cv-01241.
Sources: Dauphin Daily Voice, PennLive, Pennsylvania Record, WHP, WHTM, WITF
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