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Lawsuit: Laurel man in mental health crisis slowly died of neglect at Howard County Detention Center

Baltimore Sun - 6/12/2024

A Laurel man suffering from a mental health crisis died after he went two weeks without proper medical care and largely stopped eating while he was jailed at the Howard County Detention Center in May 2021, according to a lawyer for the man’s surviving family.

A lawsuit filed against Howard County claims the man, 49-year-old Richard E. “Rick” Hall, was hallucinating and mostly refused food and drink for 14 “long, excruciating days” before he died.

Video from inside the detention center shows that Hall was in dire condition when he died May 20, 2021. The video shows Hall lying naked on the floor of a cell, thin and visibly shaking over a period of about two hours. Toward the end of the video, which lasts more than 2 hours, 30 minutes, people who appear to be Howard County Detention Center staff enter the cell and attempt CPR.

It was too late. Hall was declared dead within minutes.

Cary J. Hansel, a lawyer representing Hall’s sister in the lawsuit, said Hall was “slowly starved to death by the utter indifference of jail officials.” Hansel said he obtained the video through a Public Information Act request.

“Internal reports note that [Hall] hadn’t eaten for many days, that the most Mr. Hall had eaten was ‘a spoonful of oatmeal,’ and that he had consumed almost no liquids during the 14 days before his death in custody,” Hansel said. “During his last 14 days, he lost 15 pounds, which was almost 10% of his body weight. At no point during this excruciating process did jail officials provide intravenous nutrition, get him to the hospital, or even allow family to see him.”

A spokesperson for Howard County declined to comment on the lawsuit, which names the county, corrections officials and officers as defendants.

The state medical examiner’s office concluded that Hall died from an infection caused by a perforated ulcer in his intestine, according to the lawsuit, filed in March. An autopsy also determined Hall was severely dehydrated and had bruising on his head, arms and legs, Hansel wrote in the complaint.

Here’s what the complaint alleges about Hall’s arrest and incarceration:

An assistant project manager at a logistics company, Hall had a normal day at work Thursday, May 6, 2021. At about 4 a.m.May 7, police received a call from a bar in Elkridge asking for help dealing with a “crazy guy” who was banging on the back door and screaming at people. The caller said the man was not drunk and had consumed only one beer.

The man was Hall, and officers observed him speaking nonsensically and throwing his belongings around the parking lot. Hall refused to leave and pulled down his pants and underwear while yelling at the police officers and talking to himself or an imaginary person. Hall repeatedly made statements that made no sense and asked questions like, “What parking lot?” when asked to leave.

Hall was charged with indecent exposure, trespassing and disorderly conduct, and held without bail, according to the lawsuit. The criminal case against Hall is no longer listed in Maryland’s online case search system.

The complaint continues that staff at the Howard County Detention Center quickly realized Hall was experiencing mental health  problems and checked on him every 15 minutes in his cell. The next day, a correctional officer noted that Hall was talking to the wall and had a temperature.

Hall was held over the weekend because he was not competent and received a bail review hearing Tuesday, May 11, where he was again held without bail because of his clear lack of competence, according to the suit.

One of Hall’s co-workers contacted his sister, who discovered Hall was being held at the Howard County Detention Center and called daily to express concern about her brother. She advised what medications Hall took and said he needed medical intervention beyond what the detention center could provide, according to her complaint, but she never was allowed to talk to her brother or visit him.

Staff at the detention center tried repeatedly to perform a “medical intake” for Hall but could not because he was uncooperative. At a May 14 virtual competency evaluation, Hall was naked and speaking unintelligibly. Detention center employees also noted that Hall “was not sleeping, he was hallucinating, he talked almost non-stop, called the guards ‘mother’ or ‘father,’ and that he was not eating,” Hansel wrote in the complaint.

A doctor who visited Hall in his cell diagnosed him with bipolar disorder and prescribed him medications used to treat manic and psychotic behavior, according to the complaint.

On May 17, Hall’s longtime doctor called the detention center and said Hall needed a neurological evaluation because his bizarre behavior was “totally out of character.” He also faxed a letter identifying Hall’s prescriptions, which included antidepressant and antipsychotic medications. No one ever followed up with Hall’s doctor, the complaint claims.

By May 18, detention center staff noted that Hall had not eaten for many days and was visibly losing weight. He was prescribed a nutrition drink but either refused it or never received it, according to the complaint.

On May 19, medical staff noted that Hall was agitated and kicking the walls of his cell. He could no longer stand and had to be placed in a wheelchair for a medical examination. His speech was illogical and he was seen eating out of the toilet, playing with his feces, and pouring drinks over his head, according to the complaint.

Early the morning of May 20, Hall asked to sit in the hallway because he felt uncomfortable and like he was “going to die,” Hansel wrote in the lawsuit. Hall was told to take ibuprofen and a medication used to treat manic behavior, which he did.

According to an incident report about Hall’s death provided by Hansel, a deputy director at the Howard County Detention Center told a corrections officer that she planned to have Hall taken to the hospital that day.

Later that morning, the video shows Hall lying on the cell’s floor. After a couple of hours, shortly after 9 a.m., an officer peered into Hall’s cell and saw that he was unconscious on the floor, according to the complaint and the video. Officers attempted CPR and summoned emergency medical providers, but Hall was declared dead within a few minutes, according to the incident report.

The video shows Hall lying still and lifeless beneath the sink in his cell for about 10 minutes before an officer enters to check on him.

The lawsuit’s claims are allegations that still must be proved in court. Howard County and the other defendants have not yet filed their response.

In an email soon after Hall’s death, the detention center’s security chief wrote that Hall’s was its second death in 30 days, according to the complaint. Hall “should have never been brought to jail as opposed to being taken to the mental health to a hospital to where he could get the right kind of help,” the security chief wrote in the email.

In a statement, Hansel said Hall was a well-educated professional with no criminal record who needed mental health and medical treatment. According to his obituary, Hall was a Georgetown University alumnus who loved sports and spent years officiating basketball games at various levels.

“Instead of receiving the care and treatment he needed, Mr. Hall was jailed and allowed to die slowly and painfully over the course of two weeks,” Hansel said. “Mr. Hall’s death is the direct result of a despicable disregard for his very humanity by the leadership of the Howard County Department of Corrections.”

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