Three women have died this summer while awaiting trial in the women’s detention center in Baltimore, according to officials, and the families of two of the women charge that “incompetent” or “nonexistent” medical care were contributing actors.
Prison Warden LaMont Flanagan said all of the women died from natural causes.
The circumstances surrounding the deaths of two inmates were brought to light for the first time yesterday by Mayoral candidate Carl Stokes, who held a news conference on the steps of Central Booking.
Stokes publicly implored Gov. Parris Glendening to investigate the apparently mysterious deaths of as many as five women this year, including the two most recent victims, Sharon Gardner and Bernadette Johnson.
“The deaths were preventable,” Stokes said. “The medical staff or Central Booking staff are not properly trained or not observant enough.”
Stokes said prison guards apparently neglected the women while they were undergoing violent, life-threatening withdrawal from narcotics. At least one of the women is said to have been screaming loudly for help.
In his two-paragraph letter to the governor, dated yesterday, Stokes said: “1 ask that the State conduct a full investigation into their deaths at the Central Booking facility in Baltimore…! have been told by a reliable source that there have been many other deaths under similar circumstances.”
Flanagan, the commissioner of the Division of Pretrial Detention and Services, strongly disputes the allegations of medical neglect.
“I will match our level of care with any correctional facility in the country,” he said. “1 will match our mental and health care with any medical facility in the state. The state police investigated all three deaths. They were judged to be of natural catises.”
He noted that Baltimore City Correctional and Booking Facility offers complete medical care within its walls, complete with nursing staff, doctors, and an emergency room.
He said Baltimore’s correctional and booking facility is the only institution in the state accredited by The National Commission on Correctional Health Care, which performs exhaustive audits of the facility annually.
Of the victims, Patricia S. Gardner died Aug. 7, Bernadette E. Johnson died in the correctional facility , June 19, and Wendy Roberts on June 6.
“There was no trauma to the body, there was no evidence of homicide on any of the women,” said Flanagan. According to sources, the state police investigation has listed Roberts’ cause of death as a cerebral lemorrhage.
Flanagan said that Gardener and Roberts died while under the care of prison staff doctors at the Women’s Detention Center. But Johnson was transported to the University of Maryland Hospital. He did not elaborate on why she was taken to an outside facility when the prison’s emergency room was available.
Commissioner Flanagan’s assertions are reportably disputed by the woman who was Patricia Gardener’s cell mate, Stacy Rice. According to Laura Williams, who is Patricia’s mother, Stacy Rice held Patricia as she slowly died in her own vomit. Their mutual screams for help from their third floor cell were ignored, Williams said, by a guard identified as Miss Hutchinson.
“Poochie (Ms. Gardener) kept throwing up and throwing up,” said Williams. “They got nasty with Stacy, told her to mind her own.” Rice was released from the detention center shortly after Gardner’s death. “Poochie” was the family’s nickname for the deceased.
Rice was not available for comment.
According to procedures at Central Booking, an Emergency Medical Technician inspects every arrested person for both open wounds and tell-tale signs of substance abuse, such as dilated pupils. The booking officer also has a mandate to follow an automated medical screening.
“If there is any indication [that an individual has open wounds, drugged, or intoxicated], that individual will not be admitted,” said Flanagan.
Both Gardener and Johnson— distant cousins—were charged with narcotics violations when brought to Central Booking. Both were heavily addicted to hard drugs, family members adding that they were likely abusing drugs when arrested. According to her mother, Gardener had returned from a drug rehabilitation center in Emmitsburg just four month ago, but had fallen back into using hard drugs, principally crack cocaine. Furthermore, according to Gardener’s sister— Kim Lomax, a dietary assistant at Johns Hopkins Hospital—Gardener had open sores on her legs on the day of her arrest.
“She was an addict,” Williams said. “She was ill, and I don’t understand why they couldn’t give her anything.”
When asked if she had been given a cause of death of her daughter’s death, Williams replied no. “The police didn’t tell me nothing.” A message to call the correctional facility, she said, was left on her answering machine on Saturday morning, a day after Gardener had died.
“They told me they had bad news,” Williams said. “I was expecting them to tell me she was sick, she had HIV or something. But he told me my Poochie was gone.” Patricia Gardener was 36 when she died.
Laura Williams had attempted to deliver a change of clothes to her daughter on Friday, Aug. 6, at 10 a.m. She said she was turned away by correctional facility staff. Her daughter died at 7:02 the next morning.
Gardner’s funeral was held at the Temple Memorial Church of God in East Baltimore on Thursday, Aug. 12 at the same time Stokes and Martin O’Malley, another mayoral contender, attended an antidrug rally nearby at Ashland and Rose Streets.
Sobbing with grief, Laura Williams and her daughter Lomax encountered rally organizer Vincent Richardson. They pleaded with him to do something about what they see as an unjust death at the hands of prison officials. Richardson introduced them to the candidates.
O’Malley offered his business card, but Stokes followed the women, not knowing he was going to a funeral.
Later that day, Stacy Rice arrived at the Williams home, sat with Laura in the living room, and told her about the events leading to her daughter’s death.