If, as expected, the iron hand of the U.S. Justice Department forces the beleaguered Dallas County jail to revamp how it administers medical care to its most troubled inmates, it won't come a moment too soon. In just the last two weeks, three inmates have passed away while wards of the county, nearly half the number of fatalities the jail witnessed in all of 2005. Matthew Mulkey, incarcerated on a burglary charge and held on $15,000 bail, died at Parkland Memorial Hospital on July 15. The cause of death is unknown. On July 22, inmate Jason Olson hung himself in his cell. He was in jail on a minor theft charge. Two days after Olson's death, Paulino Garza passed away. The cause of death is again unknown.
I had interviewed Garza shortly after he was taken to Lew Sterrett last August on charges of aggravated sexual assault. Clearly anguished, the diminutive Garza said he had stomach ulcers but had not been given his medication while behind bars. As a result, he experienced debilitating pain that literally brought him to his knees. At his lowest point, he was slumped on the floor of his jail cell, his arms hugging the toilet, coughing up blood. But that grim sight didn't exactly prompt guards to take him to Parkland, he said. At that time, I also interviewed his sister, who, like so many relatives of inmates, fought valiantly to keep her loved one alive. A tiny woman with the resolve of a fiery football coach, she pestered the guards and the medical staff to attend to her sickly brother. I remember her telling me she believed her brother was innocent of the charges against him and that she was determined that she would not bury him.
At the time, Dallas County had a different medical provider: The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. A flurry of expert reports cast a damning light on the dreadful medical care the school afforded to the county's ailing inmates, ultimately eliciting the attention of the United States Justice Department. In March, Parkland Memorial Hospital took over as the jail's new medical provider. If the situation has improved, it's painfully hard to notice. --Matt Pulle