Jail paper trail tells tale of shame in mental cases

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McLennan County’s incarceration per capita is one of Texas’ highest, and tops the rate of incarceration in the Russian Federation…

We think they’re excellent operators (LaSalle Corrections) and, unfortunately, sometimes things like this happen.” – McLennan County Judge Scott Felton.

Waco – More than 500 pages of documents obtained in a Public Information Act request reveal a pattern of witholding medication from inmates with a history of psychiatric treatment prior to their incarceration at the McLennan County Jail and the Jack Harwell Detention Center.

The practice led to more than one reprimand from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, an occurrence which led to much concern among top officials in the Sheriff’s Office Jail Division.

In one example, former Jail Doctor John Wells discontinued medication for an inmate because he “was not taking all of the recommended medications and have ben rude with the nurses. As a result we discontinued his medications.”

The text message came in reply to a Februrary 2 inquiry from Jail Captain Ricky Armstrong, who wrote “When you have time will you look at _______ ______ he was on meds for seizures and has been dc (discontinued)…His family has called stating he has violent seizures if he doesn’t take his meds. I explained to them that if he wasn’t taking his meds then you would stop them. The nurse has stated it was stopped on the 30th but there was a task asking to start them again.”

Wells replied, “______ was not taking all of the recommended medications…” in his explanation that he inmate was rude to the nurses.

Earlier in their dialogue, Armstrong noted that the jail commission issued a “technical assistance for not following normal operating procedures in reference to medical not sending an email to jhdc (Jack Harwell Detention Center, operated by LaSalle Corrections) in reference to medical files.”

A “technical assistance” is a memo placed in the file for future reference and advice from the commission’s inspectors.

The record shows that an inmate committed suicide in the privately operated detention center after making a previous overt attempt at suicide while in custody at the county jail, located right next door.

Armstrong asked, “Do you know approx how many inmates we have on Psych medications…?” Wells replied that “26 percent were on psychotropics and that accounted for 11 percent of the monthly pharmacy cost,” which was $18,059 in January.

Armstrong asked in reply if that included the Jack Harwell Detention Center, and Wells replied, “No.”

It was not an isolated incident, according to an e-mail from former Lt. Karen Anderson, who wrote Wells on August 27, 2015 in an e-mail, “Dr. Wells, Capt. Armstrong has been informed this week while at the Jail Conference that Jail Commission will no longer issue any Technical Assistance on the Mental Disability/Suicide Screen Form. It must be completed IMMEDIATELY on all inmates admitted. This will be a PASS or FAIL. Please make sure the Nursing staff is aware of this matter.”

An e-mail from Capt. Armstrong to Wells the next month emphasized the problem, saying the jail commission was tightening their scrutiny of “some jails.”

On September 30, he wrote Wells, saying, “A couple of months ago we discussed Suicide prevention training for the intake nurses. It is required training per our policy and therefore it is a TCJS requirement. Our inspections are usually in February but the Assistant Director Shannon Herklotz told me last week in a class that it is possible for some jails to be inspected twice in the same year. He stated that he has told his inspectors to change the months they inspect facilities so that the jails will not have an approximate date of the inspection. Therefore, I would like to get some documentation on Suicide training for our intake nurses as quickly as possible.”

The problem had a long-term history in the paper chase, as it turns out.

In a series of e-mails dating April 26, 2010, Karen Anderson noted in a message to Wells that she wished he would “Please reply to Kristy and myself on the matter of inmates that are active clients with MHMR (Mental Health-Mental Retardation). I agree with Kristy if they are confirmed MHMR clients. If they have been evaluated by MHMR and have been placed on specific psytropic meds by MHMR, we should probably continue them on those meds. Let us know your thoughts.”

An earlier e-mail from Kristy Lohr at MHMR to Anderson noted “It was brought to my attention by David Baker that Dr. Wells is making changes to the medication offered in the jail. From David’s understanding, there are a number of medications the jail will no longer provide to inmates including some of the psychotropic medications. MHMR’s position is as follows…

We understand not STARTING inmates on expensive psychotropic medicaitons while in jail. However, we want to make sure that our active clients who are on those medications at the time of admission to the jail will be able to continue the meds while there. It is IMPERATIVE that this occurs to maintain the stability of our clients.

Please let me know how medicaitons will be handled for inmates who are active MHMR clients and on those medications prior to arrest. Thank you.”

Wells’ reply was succinct. He wrote Anderson the same day, saying “I feel that if Ms. Lohr or anyone else has any questions or opinions, regarding the practice of medicine at our faciity. I think that is IMPERATIVE, they contact me so, that we may discuss these medical issues.”

Timely reply to inmate grievances in these regards became an issue on October 15, 2015, when then Lt. Karen Anderson wrote Wells, cautioning him that “I told Freddy I understand the amount of grievances can be overwhelming at times but our Policy, Section IV, Chapter 8 states ‘as soon as possible but not to exceed 15 days. I told Freddy Jail Commission audits us on this info and we must adhere to policy.

He returned a grievance to Det. King this morning that was 19 days old.”

A confidential source whose son has been prescribed psychotropic medication since he was five years of age – a period at this point of 20 years – told we of The Legendary that her son did without his medication for a period of six weeks after being processed into the inmate population at the Jail earlier this year.

Upon his transfer to the Jack Harwell Detention Center operated by LaSalle Corrections, he was again denied his medication for an extended period, until his problems overwhelmed him and he was placed in a medical segregation unit.

For a brief period, he was returned to the general population, according to his mother, but when difficulties with former associates from the streets arose, he was returned to the medical segregation unit; there he languished without medication again for a number of weeks.

The two jails are separated by an alley the width of a city street. MHMR’s offices in downtown Waco are only a few blocks distant from the administrative offices of the Sheriff’s department.

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