About 20 years ago, a woman named Tammy was in a car accident and suffered a traumatic brain injury. As is relatively common, the brain injury caused a seizure disorder, and Tammy only avoids grand mal seizures by taking two anti-seizure medications, Neurontin and Topamax, every day. She was also taking medication for depression and anxiety, including the benzodiazepine Clonazepam, another drug for high blood pressure, and Suboxone in an effort to recover from an addiction to prescription painkillers.
Last summer, when she was late for a court hearing in another state, she was taken into custody. Her stay in jail almost killed her.
Frequent, uncontrolled seizures are considered life-threatening. Apparently, the staff at the jail Tammy was taken to believe they know more about how to treat seizure disorders than doctors do. Based on their opinion that Tammy was faking her seizures, they withheld all of her medications and Tased her for good measure.
Absolutely no medical care was offered for seizure disorder, causing profound memory loss
According to the federal civil rights lawsuit Tammy has filed, the jail's medical staff and guards deprived Tammy of all of her medications for the eight days she was in custody there. The effect of this abrupt discontinuation of five medications affecting the central nervous system was to cause Tammy to begin experiencing seizure after grand mal seizure. Witnesses are expected to testify she suffered between 30 and 40 noticeable seizures while she was at the jail.
The guards were not sympathetic. Instead, they accused her of "faking it" and Tased her, allegedly in order to "make her quit exhibiting the physical manifestations consistent with experiencing a seizure."
Since her seizures were real, the jail staff eventually had to intervene and -- more than a week after she was initially booked in -- sent her to a hospital emergency room.
Shockingly, the jail's medical staff did not reinstate Tammy's medications. Instead, they gave her a single dose of Phenobarbital, an anti-convulsive that was not part of her previous medication regime and which was totally inadequate to prevent her seizures.
Tammy had three more seizures in the ambulance on the way to the ER. Nevertheless, the medical staff at the jail did not let the ER know she had been deprived of her medications. That meant the ER doctors had more difficulty stabilizing her.
Ultimately, the continual seizing of her brain, over and over, had caused a new, irreversible brain injury, swelling of her brain, memory loss, cognitive impairment and neurologic damage. She can't remember what happened to her after the seizures began.
How could jail and medical personnel be so indifferent? They have a legal duty to care
What can be said about this tragedy that could explain it to anyone's satisfaction? The jail has refused to hand over its records of the incident, even though they are required to do so by a preservation of evidence and Open Records Act request.
What we do know is this. Whenever anyone, anywhere, is taken into custody by a government agency, that agency has a constitutional duty to protect the inmate's health and welfare. They must, by law, provide adequate medical treatment for any and all medical conditions the inmate has. Jail inmates have a constitutional right to be relatively safe and free from injury.
Tammy is suing the individuals who Tased her, those who withheld her medication and committed other wrongdoing. She is suing the jail, the contract medical provider and the county. She is seeking compensation for her past, present and future medical expenses, lost wages, lost earning capacity, pain, suffering, anguish, loss of enjoyment of life, permanent injury and disability, loss of consortium, and any other damages available under federal law. We wish her well.