The filing of a civil lawsuit against Texas Department of Criminal Justice and 33 past and present employees at the William P. Clements Unit on the behalf of the estate of former prisoner Alton Rodgers and his mother, Gwendolyn Dolores Rodgers Patrick, is planned for Monday.
Amarillo attorney Jesse Quackenbush said the complaint he intends to file alleges that Rodgers was suffering from tuberculosis, which went untreated by TDCJ staff.
“To deny this type of medical care is without a doubt a crime against humanity,” Quackenbush told the Amarillo Globe-News on Saturday.
Rodgers died Jan. 19 at Northwest Texas Hospital. His death was ruled a homicide. The preliminary autopsy report concluded the inmate died from a left subdural hemorrhage, or bleeding of the brain, and skull fracture caused by blunt impact trauma.
The man being investigated in connection with Rodgers’ death is Joe Greggs, 40, who was his cellmate.
TDCJ officials reported they found evidence to suggest there was an altercation between the two. However, Quackenbush said Greggs refutes this.
According to TDCJ medical documents, as well as an autopsy report acquired by the Globe-News, Rodgers suffered from various ailments throughout 2015, including varying weight, intermittent loss of vision in his right eye and complaints of not being able to keep food down.
Rodgers was 6 feet, 7 inches tall and weighed 148 pounds with a body mass index of 16.7 when he died.
His condition was previously described to the Globe-News by a medical official as a state of “emaciation,” suggesting starvation.
In April, Robert Hurst, public information officer for TDCJ, told the Globe-News that “the notion that the offender was ‘starved’ is inaccurate. Food trays were delivered every day to his cell, and records indicate he purchased food items from the commissary. There is no evidence to suggest that food was ever withheld from Rodgers.”
Quackenbush said he thinks tuberculosis was the reason for Rodgers’ emaciated state.
Rodgers had previously contracted TB, an infectious airborne disease. He had been diagnosed with a latent tuberculosis infection in 2002 while he was an inmate at the Clements Unit, according to prison medical records.
A person who has had TB can have the disease again, once they are exposed to the airborne bacterial infection. A symptom of TB is extreme weight loss, which was one of the reasons behind TB’s original nickname, “consumption.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the incarcerated population in the U.S. contains a high proportion of people at greater risk for TB than the overall population. Approximately 4 to 6 percent of TB cases reported in the nation occur among people incarcerated at the time of diagnosis.
There are two types of TB — latent and active. Latent TB can lie dormant with no symptoms unless the body’s immunity has been compromised, in which case it can become active TB. Active TB can be successfully fought off by a healthy immune system without medical treatment, but if a person’s immunity has been compromised, then medical treatment is required.
Quackenbush gave the Globe-News a letter from TDCJ that showed TDCJ denied a request to test tissue samples from Rodgers’ autopsy for TB.
“It is not appropriate for forensic samples collected in a criminal investigation to be tested, and subsequently destroyed, for purposes of a civil lawsuit,” Deborah D. Dictson, a prosecutor for TDCJ’s Special Prosecution Unit, wrote in her denial letter dated Sept. 12.
“The samples collected must remain intact and available for any additional testing that may be requested by defense counsel appointed in the criminal case.”
Dictson is referring to the state’s criminal investigation into Greggs’ possible involvement in Rogers’ death.
Quackenbush pointed to TDJC’s denial, the fact that the wardens in charge of the Clements prison during Rodgers’ death retired one month after his death, and the 18 security guards who were disciplined for failing to complete required checks on Rodgers’ cell as evidence of TDCJ trying to cover its tracks.
“I suspect they are fearful that the public will learn of the horrors taking place inside (the Clements Unit). I’ve interviewed inmates and former guards, and it is now becoming clear that inmates, primarily African-Americans, are systemically being denied needed medical care to fight treatable diseases like TB and hepatitis,” Quackenbush said in a news release concerning the lawsuit.
The Globe-News attempted without success to contact TDCJ and the Special Prosecution Unit by phone for comment.
Story provided by Amarillo Globe News.
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