Family of Diabetic Inmate Who Died at Dawson State Jail Sues Private Prison Operator

Pamela Weatherby, a 45-year-old Big Spring woman -- and, according to a federal suit filed Monday in Dallas, an "unstable insulin dependent diabetic" -- was serving a one-year sentence for drug possession at Dawson State Jail when she died last July.

Now her parents and two sons say Weatherby would still be alive if not for the treatment she received from guards and medical staff at Dawson, which is on the Trinity River on W. Commerce Street. They're suing Corrections Corporation of America, the state jail's operator and the country's largest private prison outfit, over her death.

Says the suit, which follows after the jump, Weatherby wasn't given off the regular insulin shots she needed -- she got oral diabetes treatment instead -- nor was she fed the special low-starch diet Texas requires for diabetic inmates. The suit recounts Weatherby's two months of diabetic comas after she was taken off insulin shots, blaming them on "CCA's deliberate indifference to her serious medical needs."

CCA spokesman Mike Machak tells Unfair Park they hadn't been served yet and only just got a look at the suit. "However, at this point, it is important to understand that we take the health of every inmate in our care very seriously," he says.

Lawyers for Weatherby's family didn't respond to messages, but Elisabeth Holland, a local nurse practitioner who runs Project Matthew, a faith-based medical program for incarcerated women, says she isn't surprised. "My opinion is that the health care in Dawson is worse than in a developing country," she says. "Any of those diseases -- HIV would be another one -- that require regular medication with regular screening gets lost."

CCA is the only defendant named in the suit. But it also mentions one Quindlynn Gray, who, the suit alleges, signed off on Weatherby's health care at Dawson; Gray is listed as an employee of the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, which provides health care for Texas's corrections system. (That may not be the case very much longer, especially if private health care providers convince lawmakers to open the market.)

The suit against CCA offers a blow-by-blow account of Weatherby's diabetic incidents at Dawson, where, the family alleges, her treatment didn't follow the course prescribed by the diagnostic intake facility Weatherby came through first.

Within days of her arrival at Dawson, the suit says, Weatherby was taken off her scheduled insulin shots and given oral Glyburide instead -- ushering in "three consecutive days of diabetic comas," the suit says.

Mistaking the comas for a suicide attempt, the suit says, jail officials had her transferred to a mental health unit in Gatesville, where she was put back on insulin shots and stabilized -- only to return to Dawson after a few days, where she was taken back off insulin and her comas started up again.

At 1 a.m. on June 22, the suit says, guards found Weatherby unresponsive in her cell again; she was transferred to Parkland, stabilized, and returned to Dawson the next morning.

Weatherby died July 14 after "yet another diabetic crisis", the suit says; an autopsy blamed effects from her diabetes.

"CCA refused to treat Weatherby, ignored her complaints, and intentionally treated her incorrectly with wonton disregard for any serious medical needs," Weatherby's family claims, blaming the company for "a pattern and practice of failing to implement processes and procedures" the state requires.

Weatherby v. Corrections Corporation of America

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Patrick Michels
Contact: Patrick Michels

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