Wrongful Death Lawsuit Filed Against Harris County, 8/6/2009

Family sues over mother's death at Harris jail

By JAMES PINKERTON

HOUSTON CHRONICLE
Aug. 6, 2009, 8:07PM

The children of a jail inmate who died of an untreated blood infection last year filed a wrongful death and malpractice suit against Harris County and a jail nurse Thursday, alleging medical personnel ignored repeated pleas for treatment from the inmate, her attorney, family members, other inmates and two county jailers.

Margarita Saavedra, a 44-year-old diabetic, died as she lay unattended in the jail medical clinic on Jan. 12, 2008, according to jail documents provided by the family's attorney.

Her death came after at least a week of fruitless attempts to be sent to a hospital to examine her painfully infected knee, but jail nurses told concerned jailers they thought Saavedra was faking so she could receive drugs, according to a jailer's report.

Saavedra, who was awaiting trial on drug charges after her arrest in September 2007, hit her knee on her bunk in January 2008, aggravating an existing knee injury that had been repaired with metal pin. A jail doctor on Jan. 6 had ordered her to a hospital for an MRI and a consultation with a bone surgeon.

Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment Thursday, spokeswoman Christina Garza said. The nurse named in the suit still is employed at the jail, Garza said.

"I know what the claims are - that she got sick and died in custody. And it's an absolute tragedy when somebody dies in custody, but we will just have to see the lawsuit ... before I comment on it," Assistant County Attorney Mark Hill said.

Saveedra's death was one of a number of "alarming" jail deaths cited in June 4th report by the U.S. Department of Justice. Investigators who inspected the jail in March 2008 found that a lack of adequate medical and mental health care, and protection from physical violence and safety hazards violated inmates' constitutional rights.

"There's no question this condition was treatable, and curable, and was not a fatal disease," said Houston attorney Randall Sorrels, who filed the lawsuit.

Jose Saavedra said he could not understand why jail personnel were so dismissive of his mother's complaints.

"Why would they treat her like that, because she wasn't mean to anybody?" he said. "It's hard to know there are people out there like that. If you go into a profession to help someone, you're supposed to help them, no matter what."

Saavedra's daughter, Amalia Casarze, said she and her employer, a local doctor, notified jail staff that her mother's condition was worsening. She said she learned of her mother's death two days afterward during a collect call from a cellmate.

"You explain all the conscious indifference to the rights of this woman to a lack of proper staffing and a lack of proper training," Sorrels said. "There was notice after notice after notice, verbal, written, jail employees, doctors, lawyers, everyone giving this jail notice and no one doing anything to save this woman's life."

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