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Lawsuit alleges inmate went blind after Cuyahoga Co. jail staffers delayed treatment of injury

Posted: 2:20 PM, Jun 13, 2019
Updated: 2019-06-13 20:38:32-04
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CLEVELAND, Ohio — A former inmate at the Cuyahoga County Jail has filed a lawsuit stating that jail officials' lack of a timely response to an injury sustained at the facility caused her to go blind in one eye.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, names the county, Armond Budish, sheriff Clifford Pinkney, former jail warden Eric Ivey, former regional director of corrections Ken Mills, medical director Thomas Taliman and various nurses as defendants.

According to the lawsuit, on May 30, 2018, the plaintiff, Tammy Decosta, fell in a pool of water that had been leaking from a sink/toilet for several days and hit her head while at the jail. She was taken to the medical bay and treated for a swollen knee and backache.

Later, after waking up from a nap, Decosta started to experience “floaters” in her left eye. She alerted corrections officers and nurse but was told that the medical condition was “nothing more than just high blood pressure,” according to the suit. Despite being told this, jail staff didn’t take her blood pressure, the suit states.

Additionally, one of the nurses told her she was a “mental health nurse, not a doctor” when Decosta told her about a problem with her eye. The lawsuit states that the nurse told her that jail employees were “really busy and medical emergencies happen all day and they didn’t have time” to see her.

Eventually x-rays were ordered of her knee but the problem in her eye was ignored, the suit states. Afterward, the eye problems continued and Decosta went blind in the affected eye.

When the plaintiff complained to the nurses about it, the suit alleges that they laughed at her and said: “Decosta, LAY DOWN. I’m sure it’s blood pressure related.”

Three weeks later, Decosta was examined and sent to MetroHealth Medical Center’s emergency room. Doctors discovered that she had two tears in her retina. According to the lawsuit, one of the tears “could only have come from the sudden impact.”

She underwent surgery on Aug. 3, 2018 and then had laser surgery a few weeks later “due to a pocket of fluid," the suit states. Decosta was prescribed eyedrops that were “very important and to be used as prescribed” following the surgery, the lawsuit states. The drops were given to jail staff along with instructions and a summary of Decosta’s medical condition.

After returning to the jail, employees stopped giving her the eye drops. During a follow-up she told the doctor about not getting the eyedrops and he sent over instructions that “emphasized how important the eye drops are for recovery” and that they were not to be discontinued, the suit alleges.

In October 2018, she started seeing spots, colors and gray shadows in the affected eye. She was sent back to MetroHealth and after an examination was told that her retina had ripped off, the lawsuit states.

According to the suit, doctors said that if she had received medical treatment right after the original fall happened, her sight could have been saved.

The lawsuit also touches on various issues brought up in a 2018 U.S. Marshals Report of conditions at the jail.

RELATED: U.S. Marshals pulling out of downtown county jail following damning report

According to the lawsuit, the conditions at the facility violate the constitutional rights of inmates residing there.

The suit states that:

  • The Jail is underfunded, understaffed, poorly administered, and intentionally overcrowded, giving rise to a chaotic and perilous environment inside the jail walls.
  • Detainees and inmates are regularly denied access to medical and mental health care, hygienic conditions, sufficient and edible food, access to religion, and movement, access to their attorneys.
  • Jail staff (defendants in the lawsuit) “have long been on notice of the horrific conditions and constitutional deprivations occurring daily at the jail yet have failed to timely or effectively remedy the deplorable state of affairs.”

Decosta is seeking monetary damages in excess of $25,000, according to the lawsuit.

Attorney Michael J O'Shea, whose office is representing Decosta, released the following statement:

The facts of this suit speak for themselves.

What Ms. Decosta is alleging in her causes of action include:

  1. A claim that the leaking/water conditions at the jail caused her fall (and the County is not immune from this action alone);
  2. A claim that the conditions at the jail and the response to the injury violate the Eighth Amendment which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment; and
  3. A claim that the refusal of the jail authorities to address the complaints of Ms. Decosta violated the Fifth Amendment guaranty of “due process” to address a wrong by the government;
  4. A “Monell” claim which is a claim that, in addition to the acts and/or omissions of a governmental employee, the governmental employer had a practice, custom and/or policy which created or promoted or ratified the conduct of the relevant employees;
  5. Claims that the defendant employees were functionally conspiring together to achieve the civil rights violations; and
  6. A claim that the County was “reckless, wanton and/or willful in either hiring or retaining various guards and/or medical staff knowing the decrepit conditions at the jail."

For all of News 5 Cleveland’s in-depth coverage of the issues plaguing the county jail, click here.

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