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Mother Sues Prison for Son's Death

Law books in a row
By William Vogeler, Esq. on June 06, 2019

Young Joshua England was in an Oklahoma prison when he complained about a stomach ache. He visited the infirmary five times that week, but medical staff didn't find anything really wrong with him. Untreated for his condition, he died in horrific abdominal pain.

Now his mother is suing prison officials for ignoring England's desperate pain and the signs of his impending death. Shortness of breath, blood in his vomit, and rectal bleeding meant his appendix was about to burst.

Life Ahead of Him

England was 21 years old with three months left on his 348-day sentence for fourth-degree arson. He had his whole life ahead of him. "My stomach hurts so bad," he wrote to medical staff the week he died. "It's hard to breath (sic) and sleep. I can't eat that makes the pain worse." Medical staff gave him Pepto-Bismol and a laxative. A prison doctor prescribed ibuprofen over the phone. Medical records say he was "distraught" and "sweating profusely" in the final hours. He died in his cell.

The lawsuit alleges that prison staff brought a camera into the cell to document he was refusing medical care. They also had him sign a waiver, acknowledging he didn't want treatment.

A Sad, Bad Case

Some lawyers would say it is a sad, bad case. The videotape and waiver could be lawsuit-ending evidence. However, even prisoners have rights to proper medical care. Caught early enough, appendicitis can be treated with antibiotics. If the organ bursts, it requires immediate surgery. According to Christina Smith's lawsuit, the Department of Corrections offered none of that.

Smith said her son deserved better care than he received. As he was writhing in pain, her lawsuit says, he was incapable of rational decision-making. The prison will submit it's waiver and video. A judge or a jury will decide what happens next.

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