Rotting away in jail

Kevin Young earned his trip to the Dallas County jail, but no one deserves what happened to him there

Why Kevin Young still has not been tried for a crime that occurred in 1997 is anyone's guess, depending on who's guessing. Greg Long, the assistant district attorney on the case, won't discuss it except to say that a trial is imminent. Young's lawyer, Howard Law, is an elderly courthouse regular who speaks to reporters through his wife, Mary, who answers the phone at their home, where she serves as her husband's legal assistant.

She says over the telephone that her husband has always operated on the assumption that delay is the best thing he could get for Young.

"When your client's guilty, it's not always too smart to push the DA," she says. "Kevin doesn't have any cards in his hand. He doesn't have any bargaining power. Sooner or later, the pressure is on for them to clear a bunch of cases, and then they're in a mood to do a little better on the deals."

Young was jailed for holding up a drug house, a crime he no doubt committed.
Young was jailed for holding up a drug house, a crime he no doubt committed.
Young's aunt, Doris Mitchell, kept track of him in jail by telephone.
Young's aunt, Doris Mitchell, kept track of him in jail by telephone.

Delay, wait, sit it out. It's the little man's dodge. If the truth is not on your side, and if you can't afford the kind of high-dollar defense it takes to overwhelm the truth, then she may be right: Your best bet is to sit still with your mouth shut and wait for the district attorney's office to wear down. Howard Law did manage to get Young charged with aggravated robbery, a first-degree felony that is a step down from the murder one charge against Griffin.

But Kevin Young had a problem with the delay-and-wait strategy. Some of the officials responsible for his keeping even suggest, in trying to explain what happened to him, that he may have had a problem with the wanting-to-live part.

The bullet paralyzed him from the waist down, killing almost all of the sensation in his lower body as well as paralyzing the muscles that enabled him to urinate and defecate normally. He can urinate only with a catheter -- a tube inserted into his penis, through his urethra to his bladder -- and he frequently requires the help of someone else to remove impacted stools from his bowels by hand.

Young spent a week in jail after his arrest in late 1997. With Howard Law's help, he was able to post bond in early 1998 on both his aggravated robbery charge and a probation violation on the marijuana charge. Living in his grandmother's home in South Dallas, Young did a poor job of keeping appointments downtown with probation officers. Law asked Judge Edwin King to allow Young to report monthly instead of weekly, and King agreed. But even then Young failed to keep all of his appointments.

"All he had to do was call a day ahead of time and arrange for HandiRide to come get him," Mary Law says. "At one point Howard told him, 'You know, Kevin, if you can't make it down there on your own to keep your appointment, I'm sure the sheriff would be glad to send someone there to get you.'

"Well, Howard had left the house," she says, "and the phone rang, and it was Kevin. He said, 'I still don't have a ride, so just send the police on out.' The poor guy. He didn't understand Howard was trying to tell him he would be arrested if he kept missing."

The family paints a portrait of him during this period as lost in depression, slack-jawed and staring, alone in a darkened room for hours, numbed by what had become of him, still devastated by the loss of his mother and the possibility that he had contributed to her death, humiliated by his condition, and dead with despair.

But everyone has to do what the court says he has to do. The court said Young had to report. He wasn't doing it. Eventually, the probation officials had had enough. They went to Judge King, and he said he had had enough too. In April of this year, King ordered Young back to jail.

When he was examined at the jail hospital on April 19, Young was suffering from serious, draining bedsores at the base of his spine and on his buttocks. His clothing was heavily soiled with his own urine, feces, and drainage from the sores. He says he was soiled because he had been in his wheelchair all day without care.

Nurses washed him up, cleaned the smaller bedsores and packed the largest one, about 3 inches in diameter, with antiseptic gauze. They put him in a clean prison jumpsuit. It was a good start -- perhaps better care than he had been receiving at home -- but from there he was sent out into the general population of the jail, where he lived in a 12-man group cell.

Betty Culbreath, director of the Dallas County Department of Health and Human Services, is in charge of the hospital wing of the jail and the medical care of inmates. She stoutly defends her department's performance and says there is not an issue in the jail of a lack of funding or personnel.

"I have more nurses and doctors over there now than there have ever been before," she says.

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