We Hate Your Guts

What a disturbing new lawsuit says about the county jail

Mooney's lawsuit follows several other legal challenges that echo the same theme of indifference to the jail's sickest inmates. The county is defending itself from another lawsuit filed by representatives of a gravely ill inmate whose water was turned off in his cell for 13 days, supposedly because he was flooding it. The sheriff's department's own internal investigation also blithely concludes that the inmate, James Mims, "slipped thru the cracks." The inmate suffered renal failure and remains gravely ill. The investigation placed more of the blame on the jail's psychiatric staff, which is managed by an outside medical provider, the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.

That hospital has its own set of problems. An independent report, issued by Health Management Associates, a private consulting firm, has lambasted the quality of care administered by UTMB at the Dallas County Jail. Written by the medical director of the Cook County Jail in Chicago, the report referred to certain health-care practices at the jail as "dangerous," employed the phrase "systemic incompetence" and documented several cases in which the staff ignored the needs of chronically ill inmates for weeks at a time.

Last week, though, the county enlisted high-priced legal help to argue that the report, whose findings no one seems to dispute, is a privileged document and should not be used against them in the Mims lawsuit.

Stomach-turning: A lack of treatment at the Dallas County jail helped create Jerry Wayne Mooney's extreme hernia.
Stomach-turning: A lack of treatment at the Dallas County jail helped create Jerry Wayne Mooney's extreme hernia.

For nearly three years now, Mooney's family has visited him as often as the jail allows and has battled to get his basic needs met. They can't keep it together much longer.

"It just rips my heart out," says a weeping Deanna Mooney. "He's deteriorating right in front of them. I don't know how they sleep at night. They wouldn't treat animals like this." --Matt Pulle

Observer Honored

Dallas Observer staff writer Sarah Hepola recently won a prestigious University of Missouri Lifestyle Journalism Award for "Think Pink," an October 9, 2003, cover story about Mary Kay Cosmetics' attempts to reach a new generation of women. The judges for the Fashion & Design category wrote, "Oh no, not another Mary Kay story. That's what we thought as we began judging this piece, but as we read we were engaged with the style (not too confrontational, but hard-hitting) and enamored with all the characters and ideas. Hepola has taken a story many people have done and made it ring..." Hepola is leaving the Observer to continue her writing career in New York.

In other contest news, Observer staff writer Mark Stuertz was named a finalist in the James Beard Journalism Awards for his April 15, 2004, feature story on the Texas beef industry, "How Now Mad Cow." Stuertz is a past winner in the James Beard contest, the premier national competition for food writers. Stuertz was also named a finalist in the Association of Food Journalists contest for the same story.

The Observer fared well in the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies awards in June. Former Observer associate editor Eric Celeste, now with Southwest Airlines' Spirit Magazine, took first place in the media reporting category for "At the Ripping Point," his cover story about dismal morale at The Dallas Morning News. Intern Andrea Grimes took third place in the arts feature category for "Paint by Numbers," her profile of 15-year-old artist prodigy Olivia Bennett, and Mark Stuertz received an honorable mention in food writing for a collection of his restaurant reviews.

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