The Minnesota Department of Corrections has agreed to pay a record $400,000 to the family of a mentally ill inmate who died in 2010 after being left alone in his cell while suffering a nightlong bout of seizures.
The settlement ends a federal lawsuit brought by the family of Xavius Scullark-Johnson, a 27-year-old St. Paul native who suffered from schizophrenia and seizure disorders while incarcerated at the state prison in Rush City. Prison medical records showed he was left on the floor of his cell in urine-soaked clothes overnight and that a nurse turned away an ambulance crew when they were finally called early the next morning.
Johnson’s family is still pursuing a neglect lawsuit against Corizon, Inc., the for-profit medical company that contracts with the Corrections Department to provide basic care for the state’s 9,400 prisoners.
The previous record settlement was $275,000 in the case of an inmate who suffered severe burns and skin damage because of medication errors.
The court settlement “allow[s] both parties to find closure to a complex case that could have gone unresolved for years,” Corrections Commissioner Tom Roy said in a statement Tuesday.
“We take our charge to incarcerate offenders in a safe and secure manner very seriously, so the premature loss of life of offenders in our care and control always causes us great concern,” Roy said. After Johnson’s death, the department agreed to collaborate with the Minnesota Epilepsy Foundation to provide seizure-response training for prison staff, Roy said.
Johnson is one of nine Minnesota prisoners who died between 2000 and 2012 after medical care was denied or delayed by state corrections staff, the Star Tribune found in a 2012 investigation of the Corrections Department and its contract with Corizon. The newspaper found that at least 21 other prisoners suffered severe or critical injuries due to neglect over that period, with the department paying nearly $2 million in wrongful death and negligence settlements during that time, according to court records.
Johnson, who was serving a five-month sentence for a probation violation following a conviction for second-degree assault, began having seizures in his cell one night in June 2010.
Linda Andrews, a senior nurse who examined him before ending her shift and departing about 11 p.m., ordered the prison’s corrections officers to monitor him, according to prison records. Andrews did not contact the on-call Corizon physician who provides overnight medical consultation to prison staff, records show. Andrews, the only medical employee to be disciplined following an internal investigation of the case, was later suspended for five days without pay for violating nursing protocol for treating seizures, according to department records.
The incident underscored a practice some prison staff call “flying blind,” where they are left to evaluate ailing inmates during evening and overnight hours; all Corizon doctors end their shifts in the prisons at 4 p.m. and prison nurses, who are state employees, end their shifts at 10:30 p.m.
Johnson continued to suffer seizures into the early morning hours. The on-call Corizon doctor finally ordered corrections officers to call an ambulance, but when the crew arrived at dawn, a prison nurse who had just come on duty turned them away, citing certain prison medical staff “protocols” to deal with Johnson’s medications, according to the crew’s report. Soon after, Johnson suffered another seizure, and the ambulance crew was called back about 6:30 a.m. It was too late. Johnson, pulseless, had suffered irreversible brain damage that led to his death, according to the Ramsey County Medical Examiner.