The Douglas County Jail in Douglasville, Georgia is no stranger to controversy. The facility, operated by Douglas County Sheriff Tim Pounds, has been sued multiple times. Numerous people have died in the jail because of poor medical care. At least two jail staff were indicted after an inmate died of neglect.
Multiple Inmate Deaths in the Douglas County Jail
In October 2017, an inmate sued the facility after having multiple seizures during a 21 day stay. Kevin Hartwell, who couldn’t afford bail on a misdemeanor charge, was brought into the jail on November 10, 2016. He would leave three weeks later in an ambulance. His lawyer says he suffered over 200 seizures in just an 8 hour period.
Hartwell says he was denied medications for his seizures and that the jail’s medical staff didn’t properly manage his diabetes. He almost died. Fortunately, he was one of the lucky ones and survived.
The jail and its for-profit medical provider Southwest Correctional Medical Group both denied any wrongdoing.
While Hartwell was having the seizures, the jail medical staff consulted with a doctor by phone. That physician ordered anti-seizure medication but it apparently wasn’t administered. (We have long maintained that these so called “doc-in-a-box” consultations are inadequate for serious medical conditions. Jails shouldn’t be able to claim that an inmate was seen by a doctor if that doctor is dozens or hundreds of miles away and is attempting to examine a patient by FaceTime.)
At the hospital, deputies prevented Hartwell’s wife from visiting. It took a court order for her to see him. After a two week hospitalization, Hartwell was released to a rehabilitation facility. When he was well enough to go to court, he pleaded guilty to his misdemeanor and was immediately released.
Unfortunately, Hartwell has permanent injuries from his ordeal. When his lawyer filed suit, they learned that much of the jail’s video surveillance had mysteriously disappeared despite a requirement it be preserved once the jail knew of a pending claim. (More on that below.)
Hartwell’s story should be enough to convince anyone that conditions at the jail are deplorable but there is more to this story. Hartwell’s ordeal spanned three weeks, he had hundreds of seizures and on the day he was finally brought to the hospital, he had allegedly been unresponsive for 7 hours.
No one should be treated that inhumanely, especially someone who wasn’t even convicted of a crime. Until he pled to his misdemeanor charge, Hartwell’s “real” crime was being unable to make bail.
Just before Hartwell’s incident, Douglas County paid approximately $1 million to settle another case of medical neglect in the jail.
Rodney Graham, just 30 years old, had been arrested on charges stemming from marijuana possession. Once in jail, he became very ill. Rodney’s family told officials at the Douglas County Jail that he suffered from a kidney condition. Instead of providing necessary treatment, his jailers put him in a detox cell. A surveillance camera silently recorded his slow, three day death from kidney failure.
It’s rare for jail staff to be held criminally accountable for an inmate’s death but the two nurses who were supposed to oversee Rodney’s care were charged. Nurse Stephanie Evans was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and given just 6 months. She also lost her ability to practice nursing. EMT Kelli Brown was acquitted of charges of failing to provide adequate care and is now a waitress.
Douglas County settled a wrongful death lawsuit brought by Rodney’s wife and his 2 year old daughter. Without admitting any wrongdoing, the county paid $937,500. The doctor who oversaw medical care at the jail also settled although that settlement is sealed.
Said Assistant District Attorney Bonnie Smith who prosecuted the medical staff, “I think he died a death that an animal would not be permitted to die in this country.”
Joe Dent is another inmate who died while in the care and custody of the Douglas County Sheriff. At age 52, Joe already had a rough life. He had to be hospitalized and was brought back to the jail with a diagnosis of inflammation around the heart, gout and kidney failure. Instead of following recommendations from the hospital’s doctor, the jail medical staff (then Correct Health) an antibiotic that his chart says he shouldn’t be given because of an acute drug allergy.
Almost immediately, Joe’s lungs began filling up with fluid. He couldn’t breathe.
Joe asked for oxygen but was ignored. The jail’s medical staff didn’t even listen to his lungs. Over the next few hours Joe died an agonizing death. A needless death. Despite other inmates banging on the doors and screaming for help, Joe died in his cell.
Did the county learn its lesson? You decide.
Last year a female employee of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department claims she was sexually assaulted at work by a superior officer. An internal affairs investigation, as well one conducted by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, revealed multiple instances of sexual misconduct involving several officers.
All were fired or resigned. No one was charged. Sheriff Tim Pounds told Fox5 that he hopes the officers do not lose their law enforcement certifications. “Folks do what they've done every day and it's really not a crime. Just unethical that they do it here at this sheriff's office."
With an attitude like that, it is no wonder so many bad things keep happening at the Douglas County Jail.
Jail Destroys Video
Earlier when discussing the tragic story of Kevin Hartwell, we mentioned how some of the surveillance videos were mysteriously destroyed.
Jails do not have an obligation to preserve videos forever. We know many jails who erase surveillance camera footage after just 30 days.
There is no better witness than video. While searching for a lawyer, you can take steps to preserve important video evidence. If you are anticipating bringing a lawsuit, you may wish to send a certified letter to the jail administrator, warden or sheriff demanding that the video surveillance footage and other valuable evidence be preserved.
Be as specific as possible. Note the dates, name of facility and locations within the facility (for example might be “D” Block). Say in your letter that you are contemplating bringing an action and want all video evidence, log books and other evidence preserved.
Even though you probably aren’t an attorney, a judge could later instruct the jury to draw negative inferences if the jail destroys evidence after being put on notice of a claim and being asked to preserve evidence.
Writing your own letter isn’t the same as having a lawyer doing it but it is better than having valuable evidence disappear.
Investigation of Douglas County Georgia Jail
We are presently investigating two separate reports of poor medical treatment at the Douglas County Jail. We believe they are credible.
With 740 inmates, Sheriff Pounds says of the jail, “It is the purpose of this division to house inmates in accordance with state law while maintaining a safe environment for both inmates and staff.” We think he has failed miserably in his mission.
We are seeking any inmate or present / former jail employee or medical provider with information about sexual misconduct or medical neglect at the Douglas County Jail. Our practice is limited to wrongful death, serious injuries due to medical malpractice at the jail and sexual assaults by jail staff.
Most lawyers won’t take jail cases. No matter what a person is accused of or what mistakes they may have made, everyone is entitled to be treated with dignity and to have access to decent medical care.
For more information, visit our jail medical neglect information page. Ready to see if you have a case? Contact us by email firstname.lastname@example.org, online or by phone 866.836.4684. All inquiries will be kept in strict confidence and protected by the attorney – client privilege.
(We prefer online inquiries for the fastest response. If you do call, please make sure you leave a detailed message. Unfortunately, we get many calls and emails per day, most of them unrelated to the cases we accept. We will respond to all inquiries as long as it involves sexual assault by sheriff’s department staff, wrongful death or serious injuries. We regret that because so few lawyers take jail cases, we cannot respond to callers seeking general information, reporting minor injuries or complaining about their lawyer / judge / the officer who testified against them.)