HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — The family of a sick inmate who died inside a rural Pennsylvania jail two years ago claims guards and medical professionals ignored and even ridiculed his medical distress while they documented his agony the last two weeks of his life.
A federal lawsuit filed Friday by the mother of 40-year-old Shawn Kitchen blames Clinton County, jail officials and the facility’s medical staff for mishandling what started as a urinary tract infection and led to a fatal kidney infection.
The lawsuit claims Kitchen began to exhibit symptoms shortly after being jailed on Nov. 21 for an alleged probation violation, and within three days was seen crying in his cell and unable to stand up without assistance.
It accuses medical and correctional staff of responding to his complaints by putting him in solitary confinement and in a restraint chair.
Sam Foreman, an attorney for contractor Wellpath LLC and other medical defendants in the case, declined comment. A message seeking comment was left for Clinton County’s lawyer.
When Kitchen died on Dec. 3, 2017 — about two weeks after being jailed — emergency medical responders said they found him naked on the floor outside a shower where guards had taken him, in what appeared to be a puddle of urine.
“Staff members denied any recent injury or illness to this patient and stated he advised no complaints prior to the collapse,” EMTs wrote in an excerpt from their report that was quoted in the lawsuit. “It was hard to question the staff present or get answers from them. The correctional staff just repeated ‘this is not good.’”
Kitchen began to complain of severe back pain upon being admitted to the jail and was given painkillers, steroids and an anti-seizure medication, according to the lawsuit. Over the following days, he repeatedly implored guards and nurses for help, and he asked to be taken to an emergency room.
The lawsuit describes how Kitchen spent days “screaming and yelling in pain,” ‘’lying face down on his cell floor” and “shaking his cell door desperately.”
When Dr. Karl Pecht examined Kitchen on Nov. 28, Pecht ordered only that treatment with painkillers and steroids continue, the lawsuit claims. That night, Kitchen began hitting his head on his cell’s wall because of his pain and was again begging for medical attention. Guards put him in a restraint chair as punishment, the lawsuit said.
By Nov. 30, he had stopped moving or eating, and was seen on the floor, writhing in pain. A guard allegedly ridiculed him and said he was complaining too much, the lawsuit alleges.
His pleas for help and medical assistance continued the next day, and the lawsuit said his cries became so desperate that some fellow inmates began to request help on his behalf.
A supervisory guard ordered Kitchen into solitary confinement, and two days later, he was deemed to be in a catatonic state, the lawsuit said. After guards and nurses wheeled him into a shower, Kitchen “lost his vision and was rendered unconscious almost immediately,” and his heart stopped, the lawsuit said.
The Kitchen family’s lawyers say the kidney infection that was the cause of Kitchen’s death stemmed from a urinary tract infection that should have been easy to treat.
The county is accused of failure to train or supervise its staff properly, while the medical and correctional defendants are being sued for allegedly denying adequate medical care. Pecht and Wellpath are accused of medical negligence.