On October 28, 2013, Brian Hunter received an invoice in the mail from the city of Dallas. One week earlier, Hunter was in solitary confinement in the City Detention Center. At 2:15 in the morning, a jailer found him unresponsive. An ambulance came and took Hunter to Baylor Hospital. At 2:48, he was dead.
But Dallas apparently didn't make a note of Hunter's death in city custody when it sent over the invoice one week later. The medical bills were sent to the home address of Hunter's father, where he was living at the time. The cost of treating Hunter in that brief time came to the grand total of $1,040, the invoice states. The highest charges listed are $800 for the ambulance and a $100 "non-resident fee." Yet the city's charges were relatively small compared to the next bill that arrived two weeks later, from a Philadelphia-based company called "Dallas Emergency Physicians." The group had provided treatment to Hunter at Baylor University Medical Center and were also billing Hunter. They wanted $3,477.
A police investigation has cleared the jail staff of any wrongdoing in Hunter's death. The Dallas Police Department officer who investigated said Hunter died from the toxic effects of meth, not anything wrong that the jailers did. Hunter was arrested for a traffic offense, and squad car footage shows him swallowing something as his hands are behind his back, according to both his family and the DPD report. But the DPD's report doesn't address why Hunter was put in solitary confinement, something that continues to bother his father and aunt. They say they were shown footage from the jail in which Hunter complains about feeling ill. Afterward, his family says, an officer takes him out of the regular holding cell and moves him to solitary confinement, which did not have cameras. He was found unconscious a few hours later. (We recently filed an open records request with the DPD to get a copy of the jail footage).
The hospital bills are a lesser concern to his family than the circumstances of his death, but they reveal a window into the way the city of Dallas handles its jail deaths and Baylor Hospital's billing practices. Apparently, no more than 30 minutes of medical care may put you over $4,000 in the hole, even if it was the city who called the ambulance for you while you were unconscious in their custody, and even if you're dead.
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Send your story tips to the author, Amy Silverstein.