ACLU: Louisiana Detainee’s Psychosis and Injuries Went Untreated for Five Months
[George] Mason was found incompetent to stand trial and was transferred to Eastern Louisiana Mental Health System in January 2010. He arrived in a filthy jumpsuit with a strip of rag tied around his right wrist. A stench issued from his wrist which appeared infected and which emitted a green discharge. The rag was embedded in Mr. Mason’s arm, with skin growing over the rag in places. Mr. Mason also had an ulcerous wound on the right side of his back and fractured ribs. These wounds were obviously long standing and had been left untreated during his months of imprisonment.
Miranda Tait, Attorney with the Advocacy Center states, “Mr. Mason was clearly unable to care for himself or to differentiate illusion from reality. For 5 months, he lived a nightmare locked in a cell 23 hours a day, unable to communicate with anyone or ask for help.”
Mason’s niece has filed suit on his behalf against Tangipahoa Parish — you can read the complaint here (PDF) — alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and the Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause (which governs conditions-of-confinement cases for pretrial detainees, rather than the Eighth Amendment), as well as state-law negligence. Here, to me, is the most telling part of the Statement of Facts:
17. In recent years, Mr. Mason has been incarcerated at the Tangipahoa Parish Jail on two occasions. In April 2009, Mr. Mason was arrested for aggravated assault and incarcerated at the TPJ pending a determination of his competence to stand trial. As a result, Mr. Mason remained at the TPJ from April 18, 2009 until sometime near the end of June 2009.
18. Mr. Mason was again incarcerated in the TPJ on August 18, 2009, when he was arrested for throwing cake at a family member’s neighbor, and charged with simple assault and unauthorized entry of an inhabited dwelling. Mr. Mason remained at TPJ until January 26, 2010 when he was transferred to Eastern Louisiana Mental Health System (ELMHS) in Jackson, Louisiana.
19. For much of the last twenty years, Mr. Mason lived in Amite, Louisiana. He is well known by that community, including law enforcement, as a person with a serious mental illness. In recent years, Mr. Mason often has been found wandering the streets of Amite. He frequently has been homeless or incarcerated.
20. Prior to developing mental illness, Mr. Mason graduated high school and went to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette on a football scholarship. Mr. Mason dropped out of college when symptoms of his schizophrenia developed.
In the wake of the Gabrielle Giffords shooting, we heard a lot about America’s inadequate mental health safety net, the problems of treating schizophrenia, etc., etc. Predictably, that flurry of concern seems now to have passed. Of course, the vast majority of Americans suffering from schizophrenia do not commit grocery-store massacres. They wander the streets, throw cake at their neighbors, shuffle in and out of jail, and sometimes, wind up in a state hospital that lets their festering wounds and broken ribs, not to mention their delusions, go untreated. I don’t know what the optimal societal response to schizophrenia would be, but I can guarantee we are currently very far from it.