Lawsuit Claims Harris County Jailers Ignored Severely Ill Inmate Before He Died

The last time that Kathryn Green saw her son Patrick, he said he was feeling confident in his addiction recovery. He was doing time in the Harris County Jail for a probation violation after he relapsed and found heroin again, his parents say. But he had access to a drug counselor on his floor, had been sober for three months and had really thought that, this time, after he was freed, he was going to turn his life around and get back to his videographer career, shooting footage at various summer camps for kids.

Two weeks later, though, Kathryn and her husband, David Green, received a call at 3:30 in the morning from a Harris County sheriff's deputy. It wasn't his job to tell them this, the call began, but he figured somebody needed to: Their son had died in the hospital earlier that night, at 11:59 p.m. — just one minute shy of his 28th birthday.

Doctors would tell the parents that it was acute bacterial meningitis that took their son — a treatable disease that can become fatal if left untreated.

“Maybe he couldn't have received perfect medical treatment,” his father, David, told the Houston Press, “but he didn't have to die.”

Now, his parents are suing Harris County, alleging that Patrick received no medical attention in the several days before his death even though he was visibly sick. His fingers and lips had started turning blue, he had dark rings around his eyes, and he couldn't eat or get out of bed. In addition, the suit claims that Patrick didn't report to work in the laundry room for three days. The lawsuit alleges that guards took no action, even after Patrick's cell mates and co-workers told guards he was very ill. At one point, they even held Patrick up to the glass inside his cell so the guards could get a good look at him.  Those guards allegedly never alerted medical personnel until he was found unresponsive on the floor of his cell. According to the lawsuit, one guard kicked Patrick four times on the shoulder in an effort to wake him. The lawsuit claims that the cell mates eventually told the guard to stop, saying that Patrick was too ill. 

When he didn't wake up, Patrick was transported to the jail medical clinic, where, the lawsuit claims, he remained unconscious for several hours before the nurse even called an ambulance to take him to the hospital; as a result, the nurse is named individually in the suit as well. An ambulance picked up Patrick shortly after 9 p.m. By 11:20, he went into cardiac arrest, and just before the day ended, he died.

At a press conference Monday, the family's lawyer, Randall Kallinen, claimed that Patrick contracted meningitis specifically from the filthy conditions in the jail. Kallinen said that after Patrick's death, the inmates in his pod were quarantined to make sure that if anyone else had meningitis, the disease wouldn't spread. But none of them, Kallinen said, came down with the illness, leading him and the family to believe that the only way Patrick could have gotten it is from bacteria he picked up in the jail itself. He also called attention to the Houston Chronicle's recent six-part investigation into Harris County Jail conditions, which found that, since 2009, 19 inmates have died of illnesses that were either treatable or preventable.

Since Patrick died, though, Kallinen says, the family has had trouble obtaining records from the Harris County Sheriff's Office that may explain in more detail why their son received inadequate attention, or whether anyone had been checking on him. The sheriff's office declined to comment.

“They have laid down roadblocks for the Greens to find out exactly what happened, and that's another reason we had to file this lawsuit,” Kallinen said, “because a federal judge will make Harris County divulge their records so they can see exactly whether the filth in the Harris County Jail is what killed Patrick Green, along with the consciously indifferent medical care that he received.”

Toward the end of the press conference Monday, David Green thought back to the last times he visited his son at the jail, when his recovery from addiction was looking up, and said he couldn't have imagined coming back to the site to talk about his son's death. 
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Meagan Flynn is a staff writer at the Houston Press who, despite covering criminal justice and other political squabbles in Harris County, drinks only one small cup of coffee per day.
Contact: Meagan Flynn