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Lawsuit alleges filthy conditions, disregard, led to death in Harris County jail

After Patrick Green died in Harris County jail 13 months ago, a sheriff’s office spokeswoman said the disease that killed him felled him with stunning speed.

“We didn’t know Mr. Green was gravely ill, nor that he was going to die and, frankly, I don’t think hospital personnel knew either,” she said. “It all happened rather quickly.”

But in a wrongful-death lawsuit filed Sunday, Green’s parents and lawyer allege jail staff ignored obvious warning signs of the man’s illness, including increasingly desperate pleas from other inmates on his behalf.

Green’s death was among dozens of inmate deaths examined last year in a series of articles by the Houston Chronicle that raised questions about how guards and medical staff treated inmates.

Officials with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office have not yet returned calls seeking comment.

Green lay in his cell for at least two days, wracked with fever, chills, and a splitting headache before medical workers finally took him to the jail’s clinic, according to the suit. By that time, it was too late to stop the swift-moving infection – bacterial meningitis – ravaging Green. He died in Ben Taub General Hospital a minute before midnight on the eve of his 28th birthday.

“How the third largest jail in the United States gets away with violating inmates’ constitutional right to adequate healthcare is beyond belief,” said civil rights attorney and lawyer for the family Randall Kallinen, in a news release detailing the suit. “The United States Department of Justice needs to step up its regulation of the Harris County [Jail] to prevent more tragic deaths.”

The suit comes after months of fruitless efforts by Green’s family to learn more about the circumstances of their son’s death, and after Harris County tried to block the release of Patrick Green’s autopsy report and other medical records.

Green, a recovering heroin addict, had been jailed in December because he relapsed and used drugs – a violation of the terms of his deferred adjudication probation stemming from an arrest in 2013. In interviews with the Chronicle last year, his parents spoke frankly about his struggles with drug addiction and said he’d pleaded guilty to the charge and decided to serve out his sentence because he knew he needed to confront the situation “head-on.”

“He was trying to get right,” Kathryn Green, his mother, said Monday.

In the weeks before he died, Green had been working in the jail’s laundry and was housed in a cellblock that was “extremely filthy” and rarely cleaned, according to the lawsuit.

“The tables were rusty. There was orange and yellowish grime and filth in the showers and on the toilet and water fountain,” the suit says. “Black dirt and mold-like material was coating the air vents and other areas.”

Around Sunday, on March 22, 2015, Green “started feeling badly and was not talking, moving or eating much, was very cold, and his lips and fingers were turning blue,” the suit states.

Inmates told guards in the jail’s laundry but were ignored, the suit states. Later in the day, a cellmate tried to help Green and observed he was “wholly incoherent,” according to the suit, which also said that Green “was pale, could not stand on his own, could not talk, had not eaten or moved all day, and he had black rings under his eyes.”

Guards ignored requests from two inmates who tried to warn them about Green’s condition, which grew so bad that inmates started banging on the cellblock’s glass walls to get guards’ attention and on Tuesday propped Green up against the glass “to show the guards in the picket how ill [he] was.”

The revelations horrified Green’s parents, who are both lawyers.

“Until he collapsed, nobody did anything except for the inmates who were trying to get him help,” said his mother, as choked back tears.  “It’s the inmates who were treated like trash … It cuts to my core, that the people in charge failed to do anything.”

Green eventually collapsed in his cell. Fifteen minutes later, guards entered the cell and eventually took him to the jail’s clinic, where he was left untreated for “many hours,” according to the lawsuit.

At about 9 p.m., he was taken to Ben Taub General Hospital. At 11:20 p.m., he went into cardiac arrest, and doctors pronounced him dead at 11:59 p.m. The infection that killed him was later determined to be bacterial meningitis, the first case since 2006, according to Chronicle archives.

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