In the days before his death, Deshawn Lamont Coley begged medical staff at the Forsyth County Jail to get him help for his asthma as his breathing continued to deteriorate, but the jail medical staff ignored him and failed to get him medical treatment, a lawsuit filed Wednesday alleges.
According to the lawsuit, that alleged neglect led to Coley’s death at the age of 39 in the early morning hours of May 2, 2017. An autopsy report said he died as a result of complications from asthma.
Coley was one of two men who died in May 2017 at the Forsyth County Jail. Stephen Antwan Patterson, 40, died at the jail on May 26, 2017. Patterson’s oldest son, Zyrale Jeter, who is the administrator of his father’s estate, filed a lawsuit earlier this year against Correct Care Solutions, LLC. That lawsuit has since been transferred to U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina. That lawsuit alleged that Correct Care Solutions not only ignored Patterson’s dangerously high blood pressure but that the company’s policies are “largely motivated by CCS’s commitment to its overall goal of cost-cutting/saving.”
On May 1, Josephine Coley, the mother of Deshawn Coley and the administrator of her son’s estate, filed a medical malpractice lawsuit in Forsyth Superior Court against Correct Care Solutions. The company had its corporate headquarters in Nashville, Tenn. Correct Care is now known as Wellpath after Correct Care combined with another company.
The lawsuit said jail staff ignored Deshawn Coley’s many requests for medical attention, including one note where he wrote that his life was in jeopardy.
Correct Care Solutions did not respond to an email seeking comment. Christina Howell, a spokeswoman for Forsyth County Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough, sent out a statement Friday afternoon in response to the lawsuit:
“We are saddened by the loss of life anywhere, and we continue to extend our condolences to the family of DeShawn Coley,” she said. “Since Sheriff Kimbrough took office in December of 2018, he has met with both management and staff of Well Path, who is contracted by Forsyth County to provide health care services for inmates.”
This is the fourth lawsuit against the medical provider over the death of an inmate at the Forsyth County Jail. Lawsuits have previously been filed over the 2013 death of Dino Vann Nixon and the 2014 death of Jennifer Eileen McCormack Schuler. Both lawsuits have since been settled.
The current lawsuit involving Deshawn Coley names not only Correct Care Solutions as a defendant but also several other people who were employed by the company — John G. Rancy Jr., Kristen L. Johnson, Josie W. Douthit, Julie W. Collins, Carol Surratt and Rebecca Ann Thomas.
The lawsuit said that Coley had a long history of asthma and that between mid-October 2016 and April 2017, Coley was seen in the emergency rooms at Forsyth Medical Center and Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center no less than nine times due to his asthma.
Coley began serving a six-month sentence for driving while impaired at the Forsyth County Jail on April 20, 2017. The lawsuit says that despite informing jail staff that he had asthma and used inhalers, he didn’t get one in his first two days at the jail. He did get his inhaler, which he was to use four times a day over three months, on April 22, after he filed out a request form on which he wrote, “Asthma — Need my inhaler. Bad!!”
But the lawsuit said that he didn’t always get his inhaler: “Over the next several days, CCS staff employees repeatedly failed to provide Mr. Coley with his inhaler as ordered in spite of his requests.”
On April 29, 2017, nurse Douthit went to check on Coley after Coley complained about having problems breathing. He told Douthit he needed his inhaler more frequently and that he also takes Prednisone, the lawsuit alleges.
The next day, he filled out another “Healthcare Request” where he wrote “I have Asthma and I take steroids. They have ran out and its really affecting my breathing.”
That same day, he filled out a grievance form: “I feel that my life is in jeopardy because I have severe asthma and I can’t get my inhaler when needed. I have asked over and over that something be done to no response. My next step is to bring someone of a higher power...” He told jail staff to call his doctor to explain his condition and repeats his need for steroids.
“Please someone respond,” Coley said, according to the lawsuit.
Surratt, a licensed practicing nurse, saw Coley the next day at 2 a.m.
“He was audibly wheezing, with crackles in both lungs, grunting, using accessory muscles to breathe, and leaning forward to breathe, commonly referred to by medical providers as ‘tripodding,’” the lawsuit said.
Surratt gave him an albuterol nebulizer inhaler treatment and got Coley to complete authorizations to get medical records from Baptist and from his doctor. Surratt also noted that Coley had demanded to have steroids added to his treatments, the lawsuit said. A detention officer reported that Surratt’s visit was in response to an emergency call and that Coley’s breathing “was very labored, and he could not speak in complete sentences.” The lawsuit said the officer observed that Coley had asked several times to be taken to the emergency room, “to which Defendant Surratt, ‘stated was not going to happen.’”
Johnson then reviewed and electronically signed a respiratory complaints document at 11:16 p.m. on May 1, and Coley didn’t get any other appropriate treatment and medical care, the lawsuit said.
Two and a half hours later, at 1:48 a.m. on May 2, 2017, an officer called Johnson, saying Coley was having a hard time breathing and asking for his inhaler. Johnson, the lawsuit said, told the officer that it wasn’t time for Coley to have his inhaler.
“More than one officer attempted to get nurse Johnson to come to the area where Mr. Coley was to administer his inhaler,” the lawsuit said. “Nurse Johnson insisted that the officers bring Mr. Coley to her in the medical unit.”
Coley went into respiratory arrest and became unresponsive on the way to the medical unit. Officers contacted Johnson and demanded she come to help Coley as they were taking him to the elevator in a wheelchair.
Forsyth County detention officers, paramedics and members of the Winston-Salem Police Department tried to revive Coley, but he was declared dead at 2:43 a.m.
Hours later, the lawsuit said, an employee at the jail re-faxed the request for Baptist medical records, and those records came back on May 3, 2017. Those records showed that Coley had been to the emergency room at Baptist on April 13, 2017 for difficulty breathing and the doctors noted that Coley “had an acute exacerbation of his asthma.” The records specified the treatment he received at the hospital and the medication he was prescribed to take afterward.
Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill did not find any criminal wrongdoing in Coley’s death. No criminal charges were filed in Patterson’s death.
The lawsuit seeks at least $25,000 in damages. No trial date has been set.