Before he died from complications of a ruptured appendix in an Oklahoma prison, 21-year-old Joshua England, of Fairview, was doubled over in pain, sweating profusely and possibly hallucinating, according to a lawsuit his mother has filed against state prison officials.
Over the course of seven days, England asked for medical attention five separate times, but prison staff never summoned a doctor to examine him, the lawsuit claims.
“Basically, they belittled him and suggested he was malingering or faking it. In one case they gave him Pepto-Bismol,” said Paul DeMuro, an attorney for England’s mother, Christina Smith. “It was a whole assortment of grossly inadequate care.”
The lawsuit first was reported by The Guardian.
Oklahoma prison officials declined to comment on the lawsuit.
“The plaintiff has sent this matter to the courts, which is where information should be exchanged,” Jessica Brown, a spokeswoman for Oklahoma Department of Corrections said in an email.
The Frontier made an open records request for a prison incident report on England’s death at Joseph Harp Correctional Center in Lexington. The partially redacted report states that prison guards only summoned an ambulance after observing England lying on the dayroom floor in May 2018. Emergency responders later declared him dead at the scene.
According to the lawsuit, multiple witnesses who saw England in the days leading up to his death observed he had lost a dramatic amount of weight and that his eyes were sinking into his face. He also seemed mentally slow, not “with it,” and not in his “right mind,” according to the complaint.
Prison staff ignored England’s increasingly frantic pleas for medical attention as his condition worsened and eventually forced him to sign a form stating he had voluntarily waived his right to treatment as he lay dying, the lawsuit claims.
May 22, 2018: England asked to visit the prison health clinic.“I’ve been puking all night and now I’m puking what looks like blood and my stomach hurts so so bad,” England wrote on a prison medical request form.
Although clinic staff noted England had lost six pounds in about six days and that he complained of abdominal pain, they did not complete a full exam, according to the complaint.
A prison LPN gave England Pepto-Bismol and told him to come back in three days if his pain didn’t improve.
May 23-24 2018: England submitted another sick call request.
“My stomach hurts so bad I can barely breathe. It hurts all the way down to my groin. I can’t eat or anything,” he wrote.
England described his pain level as 10 and told clinic staff he had blood in his stool. Staff noted England’s heart rate was abnormally high, but again did not conduct a complete abdominal exam. The clinic gave him a laxative and sent him back to his cell.
Later the same day, England again requested medical attention.
“My stomach hurts so bad. ... it’s hard to breathe and sleep ...” he wrote.
The next day, a clinic staff member responded, refusing to see England again and writing “You were seen on 5/23/18.”
May 26, 2018: England again requested medical help, writing on the sick call slip that his “stomach hurts so so bad its (sic) hard to breath (sic).” He also complained he was in so much pain he could not lie down.
Clinic staff saw England again that day, but still didn’t perform an abdominal exam, according to the complaint.
A prison doctor was notified of England’s condition, but the doctor did not visit him or perform an exam.
“Instead, he ordered that Joshua be given Ibuprofen and be told to drink plenty of fluids and eat fibrous foods,” according to the complaint.
England stopped working at his prison job, showering and eating. He lay on the floor of his cell crying, the lawsuit claims.
May 29, 2018: England submitted a fifth sick call request, On the form, he wrote he was short of breath and his stomach hurt. England had lost 12 pounds in less than two weeks. Witnesses who saw England that day reported he was “hyperventilating, doubled-over because of pain (or curled in fetal position), rocking back and forth, and crying,” according to the complaint.
An EKG measured England’s heart rate at 158 beats per minute. Clinic staff noted he was “sweating profusely and that he appeared “distraught.”
England was instructed to sit and wait at the clinic longer to see a provider.
“Unable to bear the pain, Joshua returned to his cell rather than wait any longer,” the lawsuit claims. “Back at his cell, Joshua was saying things that didn’t make sense, making sounds, and appeared to be imagining things.”
Other prisoners reported that DOC took a video camera to Joshua’s cell but Department of Corrections has refused to release a copy of the video to England’s family, the lawsuit claims.
England told prison officials he was unable to walk back to the clinic.
A waiver of treatment form England signed before his death was filled out in a different handwriting than his previous request for medical attention.
“I don’t want to walk,” the report gives as a reason for refusal of medical care.
“Defendants knowingly and intentionally left Joshua in his cell to die, attempting to justify their conduct by coercing Joshua to sign a release form when he was plainly extremely ill, very close to death, and incapable of rational thought or decision-making,” the lawsuit claims.
England was serving a 343-day prison sentence for fourth-degree arson and stealing oil in Major County. It was his first conviction and he would have been released from prison in a matter of months if he had lived.
According to his obituary, England worked from age 14 to 20 at a cattle auction barn near where he grew up in Fairview.
“Josh was a rambunctious boy with a disarming smile and whimsical charm,” the obituary said. “… Josh had a great passion for his friends and family and everyone he met soon called him ‘friend.'”
The charges that landed England in prison stemmed from a night of drunken mischief in rural Major County in 2017.
England and two friends set fire to some hay bales before opening the valves of some tank batteries, spilling oil and salt water into an adjacent creek.
“It may have been a boneheaded thing for kids to do, but it certainly didn’t warrant a death sentence,” DeMuro said.