Cell Disease

Being sick in Dallas County's troubled jail can be a death sentence

Even worse, Mooney got a hernia stemming from his stomach surgery, and the jail's medical staff failed to provide him with abdominal support binders. As a result, his family says, the hernia gradually continued to grow and now looks like a bowling ball striking a bedsheet. Doctors at Parkland initially thought they could correct his distended abdomen, but the jail staff failed to bring him to a scheduled surgery last year, after a computer error inexplicably released him from jail. His family believes that when Mooney later returned to Lew Sterrett, he was handed a new booking number which caused him to be lost in the computer system when the date came for him to be brought to Parkland.

As Mooney was awaiting trial on his charges, his family and his attorneys had to press the jail staff constantly to make sure he wasn't falling through the facility's considerable cracks. One of his two lawyers, Tona Trollinger, says they needed five separate court orders to ensure that he was receiving his medication, among other basic health care needs. She continually called the jail to make sure they gave him colostomy bags and that he was taken to his scheduled appointments at Parkland.

"The quality of care is abysmal," says Trollinger, a former law professor. "They knew that his attorneys were watching him, and they still haven't been giving him quality medical care. They don't give him colostomy bags; the administration of the medication is erratic; they don't allow him to see a doctor when he asks."

Parental concern: Donald and Shirley Scott say that even after their son wound up on life support, he still wasn't getting the medication he needed.
Mark Graham
Parental concern: Donald and Shirley Scott say that even after their son wound up on life support, he still wasn't getting the medication he needed.
Michael Scott's parents say he spent time in intensive care at Parkland Hospital after not receiving his prescribed asthma medication at the Dallas County Jail.
Mark Graham
Michael Scott's parents say he spent time in intensive care at Parkland Hospital after not receiving his prescribed asthma medication at the Dallas County Jail.

Trollinger says the guards have been especially disappointing, complaining whenever they're asked to check up on Mooney.

Today, after being incarcerated at the jail for three years, he says that were it not for his attorneys and his family hounding the jail staff, "he would have been left for dead."

Scott Williams says he would have faced the same fate were it not for a criminal court judge. In February, he ended up at the jail after being arrested for DUI. Thanks to a failed tracking system that prompted more embarrassing headlines for the jail, Williams stayed there for a week, unaccounted for by a malfunctioning computer program. The Dallas Morning News ran a front-page story on Williams and other inmates who languished in the jail for days and weeks after the facility's new computer program failed to keep tabs on inmates.

Being a family paper, the Morning News did not detail the conditions of the jail as recalled by Williams and other inmates. Williams says that inmates wrote their names in shit on the walls, and a water fountain was the waste receptacle of choice for one inmate with diarrhea.

"There was shit on the toilets. When I'm talking shit, I'm talking an inch of shit," he says. "I just squatted over it and pushed and tried to aim as best I could."

Williams says that because he wasn't eating sandwiches provided to him, he was forced to strip naked and move to a suicide cell. He shivered for 12 hours, lying on the floor without a blanket, trying to avoid shattered glass on the floor of his cell. Because he hadn't been receiving his medicine for depression and anxiety, he suffered through an agonizing withdrawal. At night, he'd hear inmates who weren't receiving their prescribed drugs bang noisily on their cells in protest.

"I was in hell, buddy," says Williams, who, on top of it all, is HIV-positive. Fortunately for Williams, when he appeared before Criminal Court Judge Lisa Fox, she could tell he had been to hell and back, and she gave him a personal recognizance bond that should have released him immediately. Other defendants who had been neglected have come into her court, and lawyers and advocates alike have credited her for making sure the defendants receive care if they need it.

"[Williams] wasn't getting his medication," she says. "I believed he was suffering and that he didn't need to be in jail."

Fox says that even though the personal recognizance bond should have had Williams out of the jail immediately in the custody of his mother, he wound up staying an extra day. That's because Williams says he showed a guard a pink slip of paper that said he was to be released in the custody of his mother, but the guard wasn't impressed. "'Fuck Judge Fox; she didn't call my mama, so why the fuck should I give a shit what she says?'" Williams says the guard told him.

A few months later, Williams and his partner were at their Turtle Creek apartment watching a show on the History Channel about concentration camps. Williams instantly compared what he saw to his own experiences at Dallas County. Still overwhelmed by what he endured, he became agitated and turned to his partner and said, "I would have rather been there."

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