After just two days in a New Orleans jail last October, 32-year-old Narada Mealey died an excruciating death.
During those 48 hours, Mealey quickly started to complain of abdominal pain, sickness, and nausea, the complaint alleges. Then he began vomiting—and told officials at the Orleans Parish facility that he was in severe pain.
Mealey was suffering from chronic ulcer problems at the time of his arrest and had been addicted to opioids, which he told a jail staff nurse, according to the lawsuit. Health-care staffers allegedly put him on the jail’s opioid-withdrawal protocol, giving him anti-nausea medications, acetaminophen, and an antidiarrheal medication. But the protocol requires staff to monitor his vital signs every eight hours, and the complaint claims health officials failed to do so.
Mealey, who was never given a bed, “made several calls to his family members, reporting to them that he was in tremendous pain, felt like he was going to die, and that medical personnel at the jail were refusing to provide him care,” according to the lawsuit. Though his family members allegedly went to the jail to try to help, staff members only gave him more anti-nausea drugs and acetaminophen, and failed to check his vitals, the complaint claims.
About 2 p.m. on October 29, Mealey collapsed on the floor and began violently vomiting. About 40 minutes later, he was allegedly taken to the jail’s medical unit, where he finally collapsed and went into cardiac arrest. Then he was transported to a local hospital.
“He was begging for help and in excruciating pain for two days, and they just didn’t do anything for him,” said civil-rights attorney Stephen Haedicke, who is representing Mealey’s family. “He was vomiting, he was in horrible pain, he collapsed on the floor—and they didn’t take him to the hospital.”
At University Medical Center, doctors diagnosed Mealey with a perforated gastric ulcer that was bleeding out.
He never regained consciousness and died on Nov. 2, 2017.
Mealey was arrested over a $420 court fee resulting from a 2015 conviction on a charge of misdemeanor simple marijuana possession. He is survived by four children, whose mothers, Bridget Armstrong and Natasha Tolbert, are the named as plaintiffs in the 20-page lawsuit.
The complaint was filed in federal U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Louisiana and names Sheriff Marlin Gusman, several jail deputies, and health-care workers as defendants. Correct Care Solutions, which is contracted to provide medical and mental-health services to inmates in the jail, is also named as a defendant. The company contracts out services at 333 jails and more than 100 state and federal prisons in the United States. The Daily Beast previously reported that federal records show more than 140 lawsuits, some involving inmate deaths, have been filed against the company since 2005. Correct Care has said it does not comment on open lawsuits.
Mealey’s family has asked for unspecified damages.
“He shouldn’t have died like that,” the family’s attorney, Haedicke, told The Daily Beast on Wednesday. “We don’t know everything about what happened yet, but what’s clear is that the jail medical staff were not following protocols that they have for these situations.”
Mealey was one of six inmates to die at Orleans Parish Prison, which is operated by the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office, in 2017, according to The New Orleans Advocate.
Just one week after Mealey’s death, deputies reportedly found 27-year-old Evan Sullivan unresponsive in his housing unit. He was taken to a local hospital, where he later died of what officials have said were natural causes.
But the Orleans Parish Prison’s extensive problems began much earlier than 2017.
The U.S. Department of Justice found, after investigations in both 2009 and 2012, that the facility was perpetrating “serious constitutional violations,” including “shockingly high rates of serious prisoner-on-prisoner violence and officer misconduct” and staffers who are “deliberately indifferent to prisoners with serious medical and mental-health needs.”
A federal consent decree in June 2013 outlined steps the parish “must take to ensure prisoner safety and adequate staffing of the facility,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, and independent monitors were put in place oversee the agreement to ensure compliance.
Monitors found just last week that the jail “is not safe for inmates or staff” and has “unacceptable” levels of violence, The Advocate reported.
“There’s still a huge laundry list of problems, from bad medical care to excessive violence,” Haedicke told The Daily Beast, adding that, since February 2013, there have been 17 deaths at the jail.
“It’s a terrible danger to people in New Orleans and for people who are sent there,” Haedicke said.
“These families keep having to go through this,” Haedicke said, noting the case of Ryan Miller, who in March 2015 hung himself with a telephone cord at the jail, hours after telling a guard he was having suicidal ideations.
“A lot of my cases have involved suicide at the jail, and Ryan’s case really stands out as one that’s tragic,” said Haedicke, who filed a lawsuit on behalf of Miller’s family in 2016. “It was so clear-cut. There was no dispute that they had left him unattended. There was no dispute that the reason they left him unattended was because they were understaffed.”
Miller’s case was settled out of court in June 2017, the terms of which were not publicly disclosed, said Haedicke.
When reached by The Daily Beast, an official in the sheriff’s office declined to comment on the allegations in the independent monitor’s report or the latest lawsuit.