ACLU Helps Secure Substantial Settlement For Family Of Quadriplegic Left To Die In D.C. Jail

December 2, 2008 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union has helped to secure a substantial settlement from District of Columbia officials and Greater Southeast Community Hospital on behalf of the family of a quadriplegic man who died while in custody at the Central Detention Facility.

Jonathan Magbie, 27, paralyzed from the neck down because of a childhood injury, died in September 2004 after jail and hospital officials failed to provide him proper medical care while he was serving a 10-day sentence for possession of a marijuana cigarette.

“D.C.’s jail system had a duty to care for Jonathan Magbie’s serious medical needs,” said Elizabeth Alexander, Director of the ACLU National Prison Project, which, along with lead counsel Donald M. Temple, Edward J. Connor, and Arthur Spitzer, Legal Director of the ACLU of the National Capital Area, filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of Magbie’s mother, Mary Scott, in 2005. “The jail and the Greater Southeast Community Hospital failed to live up to that obligation and it resulted in an agonizing and unnecessary death.”

As part of the settlement, correctional officials have agreed to modify a number of policies in order to protect prisoners with severe medical problems and physical disabilities, including modifying the medical screening forms for incoming prisoners and spelling out medical conditions too severe to be treated at the jail’s infirmary. Also, prisoners with medical needs that can’t be met by correctional staff must be transferred to a facility that can provide an appropriate level of medical care. Scott will also receive an undisclosed amount of money as part of the settlement

Magbie, who required a tracheotomy tube and medical equipment to breathe, developed acute pneumonia while incarcerated and was twice transferred between the detention facility, Greater Southeast Community Hospital and the District’s Correctional Treatment Facility. His pneumonia was never properly treated, and officials in the jail’s infirmary failed to provide him with adequate nutrition or fluids, resulting in his becoming severely dehydrated and malnourished. Critically, neither the detention center nor the District’s treatment facility provided Magbie with the ventilator that he needed to assist his breathing.

On Sept. 24, 2004, while the medical staff at the treatment facility was not observing him, Magbie developed an acute respiratory crisis and was transferred to the hospital, where he subsequently died.

“Jonathan Magbie was under the care of the D.C. government, and any one of a number of people could have prevented this death,” Connor said. “If nothing else, we can only hope that this settlement will help to ensure that nothing like this ever again happens in the District of Columbia.”

A copy of the wrongful death complaint filed on behalf of Jonathan Magbie’s mother is available online at:

Additional information about the ACLU National Prison Project is available online at:

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