In a wrongful-death lawsuit filed Thursday, the son of a Winston-Salem man who died at the Forsyth County Jail last year accuses the jail’s medical provider of ignoring and failing to treat the man’s high blood pressure, which was at a dangerous level when he was first screened.
Stephen Antwon Patterson, 40, was the second man to die at the jail in May 2017. The other man who died was Deshawn Lamont Coley, and the two men’s deaths at the jail sparked local protests and increased scrutiny of the jail’s medical provider, Correct Care Solutions Inc., which had its corporate headquarters in Nashville, Tenn. Correct Care is now known as Wellpath after Correct Care Solutions combined with another company.
Zyrale Jeter is Patterson’s oldest son and is the executor of his estate. Winston-Salem lawyers John Vermitsky, John Taylor and Steven Grainger filed the lawsuit Thursday in Forsyth Superior Court on Jeter’s behalf. The lawsuit names Correct Care Solutions Inc., and Dr. Alan Rhoades, who was the jail’s medical director, as defendants. Correct Care Solutions did not respond to a request for comment. Rhoades, who now lives in Salisbury, could not be reached for comment.
Vermitsky said this in a statement: “We are hopeful that the newly elected sheriff will continue his stated commitment to protecting all of the members of our community, including those who are incarcerated. If we do what is right, this will be the last lawsuit of this nature grieving families need to file.”
Christina Howell, a spokeswoman for the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, which operates the jail, said, “We are saddened at the loss of life anywhere, and we send our condolences to the Patterson family during this holiday season.”
The Construction Section, part of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, determined the jail followed state jail regulations in the deaths of both Patterson and Coley. Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill has not filed any criminal charges related to the two deaths.
This is the third time Correct Care Solutions has been sued over an inmate’s death at the Forsyth County Jail. Lawsuits were filed over the 2013 death of Dino Vann Nixon and the 2014 death of Jennifer Eileen McCormack Shuler. Both lawsuits have since been settled. No lawsuit has been filed in Coley’s death.
Patterson went into the Forsyth County Jail on May 18, 2017. He was being held on a charge of failing to pay child support. The lawsuit said Patterson was a 1994 graduate of Carver High School and had been a licensed barber. He had five children at the time of his death. He had a sixth child, a daughter, who died several years ago.
When medical personnel screened Patterson on May 18, 2017, his blood pressure was 210/140.
“A blood pressure in that range constitutes a hypertensive crisis that could result in death, serious injury, target end organ damage and/or neurological changes manifesting as altered mental status, confusion and anxiety,” the lawsuit said. “Such a condition is considered an urgent condition that merits immediate medication, diagnostic testing such as basic lab work, EKG and/or urinalysis, and appropriate follow-up monitoring and assessment.”
Patterson told medical personnel at the jail that he was taking a pill that contained two medications to control his blood pressure but he had not taken that medication in six months because he didn’t have a medical provider. He was given amlodipine and lisinopril for his blood pressure. His uncle, Frederick Patterson, told the Winston-Salem Journal that Patterson told medical personnel numerous times that he had high blood pressure and that he wanted to be treated by a doctor in the infirmary. Patterson also thought he would be able to get out of jail the same day but instead was held for nine days, Frederick Patterson told the Journal.
The lawsuit said that officials with Correct Care checked his blood pressure once more. It measured 204/138. Afterward, his blood pressure was never checked again, though Rhoades had ordered Patterson’s blood pressure to be checked once a day for the next three days after he was first admitted to the jail.
“Neither Rhoades nor any other medically trained care provider employed by CCS ever evaluated or monitored Decedent again, ever took his blood pressure again, ever performed simple diagnostic testing such as blood work, EKG or urinalysis, or ever even bothered to ask Decedent how he was feeling,” the lawsuit said.
Between May 20 and May 24, 2017, no one documented his condition, the lawsuit said.
According to his autopsy, Patterson died on May 26, 2017 of probable cardiac dysrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat, due to hypertensive cardiovascular diseases. Patterson had an enlarged heart and a thickened left ventricle, meaning the ventricle had to work harder to pump blood through the rest of his body, the autopsy said.
Dr. Anna Greene McDonald, a Forsyth County medical examiner, cited investigative reports in describing what happened on May 26, 2017. She wrote in her autopsy report that at 3:25 p.m., Patterson’s cell floor and walls had solid fecal matter on them and mental health staff was contacted. According to a separate report by McDonald, Patterson was not on suicide watch. According to the lawsuit, mental health personnel did put Patterson on a mental health/suicide watch and arranged for him to see a doctor specializing in mental health on May 30.
McDonald wrote in the separate report that Patterson had not complained about feeling sick shortly before he was found unresponsive.
At 4 p.m., mental health staff spoke with Patterson and told jail officers that Patterson was to be moved to a different area of the jail, McDonald wrote. Then at 4:24 p.m., officials saw Patterson sitting in his bunk close to the toilet. Officers returned to Patterson’s cell at 4:45 p.m. to move Patterson to a different cell. When they looked into the cell’s window, they saw Patterson kneeling on the floor with his head at the edge of the bunk. His right arm was on the bunk and his left elbow was on the floor. Feces was coming from under the cell door.
Officers knocked on the cell door and yelled, but Patterson did not respond, the autopsy said. A jail sergeant was notified and then officers and the sergeant came into Patterson’s cell. They placed handcuffs on Patterson’s left wrist and then put him face-down in the bed so that they could handcuff his right wrist. Three minutes elapsed between the time that officers entered the cell and the time they finished placing the handcuffs on Patterson.
The lawsuit said Patterson had no previous history of mental illness. On May 26, 2017, Patterson displayed bizarre behavior, including saying officers were poisoning his food, the lawsuit said. At 5 a.m. that morning, the lawsuit said Patterson refused his medication.
The lawsuit alleges that Patterson’s constitutional rights were violated and that Correct Care Solutions and Rhoades were negligent in their duties to provide quality medical care. Correct Care Solutions’ policies are “largely motivated by CCS’s commitment to its overall goal of cost-cutting/saving.”
No trial date has been set. Correct Care Solutions and Rhoades will have a certain amount of time to submit a formal response to the lawsuit.