FORT MYERS — When a 24-year-old Lee County inmate was wheeled into the jail’s medical clinic in a wheelchair, unable to move his legs, Dr. Noel Dominguez tested his reflexes, found no reaction and ordered thee man be taken to a hospital.
“At that point, I began to think there was definitely something seriously wrong,” Dominguez testified on Wednesday. “... You can’t fake the reflexes. ... I definitely wanted him to go as soon as possible. That’s why I wrote ‘stat.’ “
But it was too late, nearly 12 hours after Brett Allen Fields Jr., a healthy construction worker held on misdemeanor domestic violence charges, complained to a physician’s assistant, then told a nurse his insides were coming out and he couldn’t walk. He was paralyzed, is now permanently disabled and walks with a waddling, spastic gait, unable to feel the ground.
Dominguez, who saw Fields at 10 a.m. Aug. 9, 2007, didn’t know why he wasn’t told Fields was waiting to see him when he arrived at the jail’s clinic.
His testimony came during the second day of trial in Fields’ federal civil rights lawsuit against the jail’s medical provider, Tennessee-based Prison Health Services Inc.; Joseph A. Richards Jr., then the physician’s assistant; and nurse Bettie Joyce Allen, who is retired. Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott was dropped from his 2009 lawsuit.
A medical expert will testify today and Fields will tell jurors his pleas for help were ignored, that he became paralyzed, and that he now has trouble walking and having sex. PHS attorney Gregg Toomey will then begin the defense’s case.
Fields’ lawsuit, filed by Fort Lauderdale attorneys Greg Lauer and Dion Cassata, came days after the U.S. Department of Justice announced it was investigating the death of a Lee County inmate who was pepper sprayed that spring.
PHS, which provides care in 150 jails and prisons in 19 states, earning about $645 million in revenues, has been the target of lawsuits nationally, alleging lack of care and negligence.
Fields’ lawsuit says he was booked into jail July 6, 2007, requested attention two weeks later for a boil on his arm and was treated for a staph infection. The lawsuit says antibiotics didn’t work, his complaints were ignored and he suffered numbness and weakness in his legs, inability to urinate, and difficulty walking. On Aug. 8, 2007, Richards prescribed Tylenol and ordered a follow-up in a week.
But when Fields returned to his cell, he couldn’t walk and his rectal tissue began to come out of his anus, a condition called a rectal prolapse. Inmates yelled for help and PHS employees pushed the tissue back inside.
Jurors in the trial before U.S. District Judge John Steele also heard Wednesday from a neurosurgeon who tried to reverse the damage, Dr. Jaime Alvarez, who testified the outcome would have been better if he’d been able to operate sooner.
Jurors heard excerpts from nurse Allen’s deposition, which said inmates screamed “man down,” saying Fields needed to go to the hospital and “You’re going to let him die right here?” Fields complained his insides were coming out, she said, so he was dragged on a sheet to an observation cell in the early morning hours Aug. 9.
She called the night a “fiasco,” contending Fields’ story “didn’t ring true.” She testified it costs “a lot of money” to go to the emergency room and it was “a doctor’s job” to order that so “unnecessary money wasn’t spent for foolishness.”
“I doubt everything an inmate tells me,” Allen testified, adding she had to see it to believe it and that Fields’ leg didn’t drop when lifted.
Richards detailed Fields’ charts, which showed he didn’t receive the care ordered. He testified he’d never seen PHS’s Infirmary Care Manual and he said Fields’ pain was “unbearable,”—10 on a scale of one to 10. He said he diagnosed muscle strain, examined him and prescribed Tylenol.
Wednesday, the retired nurse, Allen, now 68, sat at the defense table, rolled her eyes, tapped her fingers on her walker, pursed her lips and appeared bored.
Tuesday, jurors heard from Toni Silvers, who described her healthy son becoming paralyzed, driving from South Carolina to be at his side, his depression and her fears he’d kill himself. His girlfriend, Amanda Duhamel, an auto shop employee, testified she became a nurse to help him and described his first steps nine months after surgery. A former inmate also detailed what happened.