Deliberate indifference and a wanton disregard for the health and safety of former Anderson County Jail prisoner Rhonda Newsome is driving a $10-million federal lawsuit filed last week by Newsome's family.
Attorneys for the family members, however, claim the issue of deadly and dysfunctional medical care in the Anderson County Jail extend far beyond Newsome. They cite a culture of indifference towards the medical needs of prisoners, including pre-trial detainees like Newsome.
“This case is about more than negligence,” Donald Larkin, spokesman for the legal team representing Newsome's family told the Herald-Press Thursday. “This case is about intentional, deliberate indifference.”
Alleged prescription and distribution of medication by non-licensed personnel, a lack of established medical protocols, and the omission – even altering – of entries in the jail's medical activity log helped deprive Newsome, without due process, of her constitutional rights to life and liberty safeguarded by the 5th and 14th Amendments.
Arrested in March, 2018 on a domestic assault charge, Newsome died around 5 p.m. June 15, 2018, in a holding cell at the Anderson County Jail.
Nearly seven hours earlier, at 10:39 a.m., officials at Palestine Regional Medical Center called for her immediate transfer to the hospital for a possible life-threatening condition detected in her blood tests.
Newsome's children, Amber Ford and Regan Kimbrough, and parents Donald and Anne Newsome filed the wrongful death suit in Eastern District Court against Anderson County, nurse Timothy Green, Dr. Adam Corley, TAKET Holdings T&A Medical Solutions, and Greg Taylor – individually, and in his capacity as Anderson County Sheriff.
Former US Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall said negligence is the “inadvertent failure to provide adequate medical care.” Deliberate indifference, however, is far more serious, he said – it violates a person's civil rights, causing unnecessary and unprovoked pain and suffering.
The law states a physician must prescribe and dispense controlled substances and drugs to inmates and detainees. The lawsuit alleges, however, that Green frequently provided telephone instructions to jailers to dispense medication – including instructions to give Newsome prescription medicine without an order from Corley. That's illegal.
Texas Rangers investigations into Newsome's death, and the death of inmate William Brown in April, 2017, showed no official protocol for the delivery, receipt, prescription, or ingestion of drugs at the Anderson County Jail.
Newsome's autopsy showed she had been receiving regular doses of opioids, such as Hydrocodone, Codeine, or Morphine – none of which were listed in her medical records.
In all, Newsome's toxicology report showed her blood contained 13 residues of controlled substances that can only be prescribed by a physician; none were on the jail's list of medications prescribed to Newsome.
Witnesses reported Newsome requested medical treatment for weeks leading up to her death, including a June 12, 2018, request for abdominal pain at roughly 5 p.m. At 10 p.m. that same day, Newsome was removed from her cell and returned the next morning – neither the complaint, nor the cell transfer was entered into the jail's medical activity log.
Witnesses further state Newsome transferred out of her cell the next day in “excruciating pain,” at around 11 a.m. This instance was also missing from the jail's log.
In a telephone call to Green the night prior to Newsome's death, witnesses say, a guard reported Newsome had been vomiting. Green allegedly instructed the guard to give Newsome Phenergan, a prescription medication. The official jail medical activity log, however, states Green had seen Newsome that night, prescribing and delivering the medicine himself.
Charles Nichols, lead attorney for Newsome's family, said a scheduling conference should take place by the end of the year.
Dan Scarbrough, another member of the plaintiff’s legal team, said the trial could take place within a year.
Newsome's family declined to comment upon advice from their attorneys.