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Oklahoma Lawsuit Blasts State Department of Corrections in Inmate’s Appendicitis Death

— June 4, 2019

Joshua England’s impending but very preventable death should’ve been obvious to anyone with basic medical training.

A federal lawsuit has been filed against the Oklahoma Department of Corrections following an inmate’s death by appendicitis.

According to KFOR, the complaint was filed Tuesday by Christina Smith. Lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, the lawsuit names as defendants several members of the state Department of Corrections, including its director, Joe Allbaugh.

Smith, whose 21-year old son Joshua England died at Joseph Harp Correctional Center in Lexington, OK, last year, claims the D.O.C. ignored the warnings of a medical disaster.

KFOR notes that England was arrested in June of 2017. Charged with fourth-degree arson and related charges, he was sentenced to just under a year in jail.

In late May of 2018, England, citing severe abdominal pain, asked to be seen in Joseph Harp’s medical unit. His written request documents how he’d spent the previous night awake, throwing up and vomiting what he believed might be blood.

England, recounts KFOR, had also written that his stomach “hurts so bad.”

England was allowed to see health staff on-duty at Joseph Harp. A physician even observed that England had lost six pounds in less than a week.

But even though the 21-year old was holding his stomach and complaining about related pains, nobody performed an abdominal exam. When he came back the next day, claiming that he “could hardly breathe,” staff again recorded his discomfort but didn’t investigate the pain’s source.

Even though England’s symptoms should’ve been a give-away to anyone with basic medical knowledge, he was never given any treatment more intensive than a prescribed round of Ibuprofen. Image via (CCA-BY-0.0). Public domain.

“Joshua’s rapid heart rate and elevated blood pressure, combined with his complaints of severe pain and report of rectal bleeding, should have alerted the medical staff and the Medical Defendants that he needed to be seen immediately by a physician,” the lawsuit states. “However, once again, Joshua was not seen by a physician and was not given a complete abdominal exam.”

Three days later, says KFOR, medical staff finally requested physician assistance—but the doctor never visited England in person, instead opting to prescribe Ibuprofen remotely.

“Multiple witnesses who saw Joshua in the days leading to his death observed that he was not eating or drinking, he had lost significant weight, his skin color had changed,” the complaint claims.

“He reported stabbing in his right side {including by pointing and holding his abdomen) and he seemed different mentally: slow, not ‘with it,’ and not in his ‘right mind.’”

Throughout England’s illness, medical staff seem to have been unbothered, unconcerned or ignorant of his condition. After submitting a fifth sick form, an EKG found England’s heartbeat was unusually high for someone his age.

On another day, clinic staff refused to see England at all—the reason they gave is that he’d just been in the day before.

Yet as England’s suffering mounted and symptoms became evident, staff still declined to send him to a hospital, later taking a video camera to his cell. The purpose, says KFOR, was to document England’s “refusal of care”—because England had earlier said that he couldn’t walk to an in-facility appointment.

One week after complaining of serious abdominal symptoms, England died from appendicitis.

The Enid News & Eagle—seeming to contradict the first part of KFOR’s coverage—adds that, in seven days, England was never once seen by a doctor. Paul DeMuro, an attorney for Christina Smith, says that staff opted to belittle the man instead of helping him.

“Basically, they belittled him and suggested he was malingering or faking it. In one case, they gave him Pepto-Bismol,” DeMuro said. “It was a whole assortment of grossly inadequate care.”

The Enid News notes that England probably wasn’t a criminal arsonist. According to DeMuro, England and some friends had gotten drunk in a rural part of Major County in 2017. They’d lit several hay bales on fire, then spilled some oil and salt water in a nearby creek.

“It may have been a boneheaded thing for kids to do,” DeMuro said, “but it certainly didn’t warrant a death sentence.”


Before dying in prison of a ruptured appendix, Joshua England begged for medical attention

Federal lawsuit filed against Oklahoma Department of Corrections after inmate dies from appendicitis

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