A report sheds new light on an incident from last September in which a black inmate at Pine Lawn Jail (in the controversy-plagued metropolitan St. Louis city of the same name) fell into a coma at a hospital after police said that he tried to hang himself in his cell. Not only did the man survive, but he claimed that he never tried to kill himself. New evidence suggests that the man had reported abdominal pain, but officials refused to take him to the emergency room, despite the attending paramedic’s recommendation to do so.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch obtained public records last week through a Sunshine Law request that detailed the events at Pine Lawn Jail. The inmate in question, Bernard Scott, was jailed for several traffic violations including unpaid tickets, displaying an expired insurance card, driving with a suspended license and not stopping for an emergency vehicle. An ambulance was called for Scott, who was suffering from abdominal pain and bleeding. The paramedic said that Scott needed to be sent to the ER, but at the last minute—after appropriate paperwork was started for Scott’s release—a police supervisor canceled the move. The records show that the paramedic tried one more time to get Scott to the ER, saying, ”PD again advised by EMS that pt should be transferred to ED for further medical attention.” But still, Scott was not be released.
Minutes later, a second ambulance was called. Scott was unconscious and displayed a posture that suggested possible brain damage. After the ambulance arrived, officers said that Scott had tried hanging himeslf in his cell. Ultimately, Scott was in a coma for over 11 days and hospitalized for nearly three weeks after surviving the ordeal.
Scott also spoke to the Post-Dispatch, saying that he did not remember attempting suicide:
“Why would I hang myself?” he asked. “I was in on traffic tickets.”
The person in charge of the jail and police last year, Anthony Gray, was known at the time of the incident for representing the family of Michael Brown after he was shot and killed by Darren Wilson. Gray is now a municipal prosecutor, and he wrote to the Post-Dispatch that he was out of town when the incident occurred and that he delegated the task to Sgt. Willie Epps—the person who, according to the paramedic’s report, blocked Scott from going to the ER. Records also show discrepancies in statements that Epps collected from officers and jail staff:
• Pine Lawn Police Cpl. C.K. Harmon said the paramedic indicated there was “no substantial risk” and “no immediate life-threatening conditions.” However, the paramedic, Matthew Pay, said he found a 2-inch circular mass on Scott’s lower abdomen that was causing him pain. His report said he advised the police twice that Scott needed to go to the emergency room, but that Epps “stated pt does not need to be transferred and advised staff to discontinue paper work.”
• Corrections officer Angela Henderson wrote in a report that there was no bloodstain, although a photo in the file showed a bloodstain the size of a quarter. She also said it was the paramedic who “found no reason” to take Scott to the hospital.
• Epps wrote that he wasn’t even present. He said he left the station for 10 minutes while the paramedic was evaluating Scott and returned to find the ambulance had gone.
This incident paints a bleak picture of Pine Lawn, which has previously been recognized for a turbulent relationship residents. Then-mayor Sylvester Caldwell plead guilty in April to extorting bribes from a towing company. And a former police chief currently faces assault and false arrest charges.
(H/t St. Louis Post-Dispatch)