Dallas Can't Spin Latest Jail Lawsuit

The County can't get away from the latest bad news on its troubled jail

But the state found other problems that seem to reflect directly on the sheriff. Just like the feds, state inspectors have cited the jail for a litany of sanitation issues, from broken toilets and showers to dirty sheets and towels. The state also concluded that the jail's staff is not adequately trained for emergency situations. Lest anyone think the inspectors are overly critical, only one other urban jail, Travis County, flunked the state inspection last year, and that was for a technical set of issues that the facility is now addressing. In contrast, the state flunked the Dallas County jail in 14 different areas.

These shortcomings have real-life consequences too. In April, an inmate named Lee Jefferson wound up in a coma after he didn't receive medication for his sickle cell anemia, his lawyer told The Dallas Morning News. Another inmate, John Graves, told the paper he developed cancer after nobody at the jail would check out the growing lump on his cheek. Immediately, Sheriff Valdez announced an investigation into what happened to both inmates. Nearly six months later, Valdez's office, in effect, concluded that nobody did anything wrong.

"It is our view that an adequate and complete inquiry was conducted and the outcome could not have been avoided due to the pre-existing conditions in which we received these two inmates at the jail," says spokesman Michael Ortiz in an e-mail to the Dallas Observer. Ortiz says that the office's investigation rested in part on Parkland hospital's own review of the county's conduct. Sharon Phillips, the hospital's vice president in charge of jail health, examined the medical records of the two inmates. What exactly did she discover? Well, apparently nothing that she didn't already know when the Morning News first brought the case to her attention. In his e-mail to the Observer, Ortiz referred us back to Phillips' own comments to the paper when it reported about Jefferson and Graves.

One sign of the standard of health care at the jail: Jeffrey Ellard's leg.
One sign of the standard of health care at the jail: Jeffrey Ellard's leg.

"Mrs. Phillips was quoted, in the very same article, as saying the medical treatment the men received in jail was 'within a good standard of care,'" Ortiz writes. "Mrs. Sharon Phillips went on to say, 'Many of the individuals that are arrested and brought to the jail have not been taking very good care of THEMSELVES.'"

With explanations like that one, is it much of a surprise that the feds filed their lawsuit? Mark Haney says that even after the county agreed to settle his lawsuit, his office is still being flooded with complaints about the Dallas County jail. "The call we typically get is from a distraught mother or father calling about a loved one with a known medical condition that's not being taken care of," he says. "To be honest with you, often there's not a lot I can do for them."

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