Trial of La. prison's 'abysmal' medical care underway in federal court
A paraplegic inmate testified that conditions were so foul in one of the infirmaries at Louisiana State Penitentiary that he couldn't wait to return to the prison's general population
By Joe Gyan Jr.
BATON ROUGE, La. — A paraplegic inmate testified in federal court Tuesday that conditions were so foul in one of the infirmaries at Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola that he couldn't wait to return to the prison's general population.
The infirmary reeked of human waste and was filled with the moans of prisoners "crying out to the Lord," Farrell Sampier testified.
Sampier, a diabetic who was testifying from a wheelchair in an orange prison jumpsuit, was describing conditions he said he experienced in the Ward 2 infirmary for prisoners with serious chronic care needs.
"I didn't want to die in that situation," Sampier testified as the first witness on the opening day of the trial of a class-action lawsuit that alleges grossly inadequate medical care at the maximum-security prison.
"I had to get off the ward. I had to get in general population," he said
The suit claims inmates have suffered unnecessary pain and suffering, exacerbation of existing conditions, permanent disability, disfigurement and even death as a result of "grossly deficient" medical care.
Sampier, who arrived at Angola in 2013 and suffers from an autoimmune deficiency, testified about inmate orderlies going from patient to patient in the infirmary without changing their gloves.
When lawyers would visit the infirmary or others would tour the facility, he said, prison officials would "spruce up the place."
When Mercedes Montagnes, a lawyer with The Promise of Justice Initiative in New Orleans, asked Sampier how he feels about Angola's medical care staff, he replied, "I think they could be more empathetic, a little more caring about their job. It could be a lot better."
In addition to The Promise of Justice Initiative, Sampier and his fellow Angola inmates are represented by lawyers with the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana and the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The suit's defendants are the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections, Corrections Secretary James LeBlanc and Angola's wardens. The state has said Angola's inmates receive quality medical care.
Mary Roper, one of the defendants' attorneys, suggested to Sampier and Chief U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick that the prison's medical staff was tough on him in the infirmary because they wanted him to become more independent and rejoin the general prison population.
Other testimony Tuesday came from Dr. Michael Puisis, one of the plaintiffs' medical experts. He is an expert in medical care provided in correctional facilities.
Puisis said he spent four days at Angola and found the medical care there to be inadequate. Medical personnel fail to diagnose or properly treat illnesses, he said, and also fail to provide follow-up care ordered by outside medical providers.
"We found inadequate care in almost every record we reviewed," he testified. "The errors were pervasive."
Puisis said he observed many medical examinations conducted at inmates' cells when they should be performed in a clinical setting. He likened the practice to a doctor seeing a patient in a lobby.
Puisis also found that the prison fails to provide or maintain medically necessary devices and said record-keeping practices are inadequate. He also found unsanitary examination rooms and evidence of food being eaten in clinical areas.
Montagnes, in her earlier opening statement to the judge, called the medical care at Angola "abysmal" and said it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.
"There is no doubt there are good actors in the system, but the system itself is broken," Montagnes said.
Randal Robert, one of the defendants' attorneys, told the judge the defense would withhold its opening statement until it begins to call its own witnesses.