The Lens is reporting that the Office of the District Attorney has chosen not to press any criminal charges against the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office in the torture and killing of Cayne Miceli in January 2009. I’ve blogged extensively about this horrible crime. And I’m not surprised that professional courtesy appears to have won over justice in Orleans Parish.
There is no doubt in the minds of all who loved Cayne that she was murdered by a chain of incompetence, negligence, ignorance and insensitivity that coalesced that fateful night. She turned to the system and it failed her. Today, the totality of that failure was punctuated by the parish’s arbiter of law. It is no surprise to most of us.
Justice cannot repair this murder. Justice did not exist that night and it does not exist today for Cayne Miceli or her family. This is a bitter Christmas present from the District Attorney. But it does not absolve the staff and leadership of the institutions into which Cayne entrusted her body and which, via negligence and abusive treatment, released her soul. Those who participated in every step of this tragedy know what their roles were in this crime. Their consciences must deal with this while they live. For now, the lawsuit filed by the family is the only vehicle for extracting truth and some semblance of justice from this community.
We all share in the shame of today’s hand-washing of responsibility, for these are our elected officials. We put them in power and we pay their salaries. They betrayed our trust and our faith. But at least we are here to say that.
Cayne Miceli was murdered. And I will say that until I no longer breathe.
Cayne Miceli Ordeal Included in Justice Dept Report That Declares Sheriff Gusman’s Orleans Parish Prison “Violates the Constitutional Rights of Inmates”
See Nola.com story here.
Orleans Parish Prison and Sheriff Marlin Gusman run a hell hole. The United States Department of Justice, in a 32 page report, spells it out in great detail. And perhaps now something will be done.
After the maiming and deaths of so many people, such as our dear, beautiful friend Cayne Miceli, it’s past time for change. The report is scathing and detailed, and perhaps will help us make that change.
The main fact stated by the report is that “we find that certain conditions at OPP violate the constitutional rights of inmates.” The report further states that “we find that inmates confined at OPP are not adequately protected from harm, including physical harm from excessive force by staff and inmate-on-inmate violence.” It continues, “we find that inmates do not receive adequate mental health care, including proper suicide prevention.” And completing the trifecta of tribulation for anyone with a health condition requiring medication, “we found specific deficiencies in medication management.”
Adding insult to injury, the report found that inmates “face serious risks posed by inadequate environmental and sanitation conditions.”
So, not only is the jail a medieval torture chamber where brutality, poor mental health standards and abominable management of medication can cause death; but, it is a filthy slime pit and potential incubator of disease. Oh, and it has inadequate fire safety standards, too.
The report goes into great legal detail in support of its findings. Then it gets into the meat of the Findings with this paragraph:
“We find that OPP fails to adequately protect inmates from harm and serious risk of harm from staff and other inmates; fails to provide inmates with adequate mental health care; fails to provide adequate suicide prevention; fails to provide adequate medication management; fails to provide safe and sanitary environmental conditions; and fails to provide adequate fire safety precautions.”
Under Finding A, INADEQUATE PROTECTION FROM HARM under item l: Unnecessary and Inappropriate Use of Force, the report states that “We believe there is a pattern and practice of unnecessary and inappropriate uses of force” and goes into detail regarding officers “openly engaged in abusive and retaliatory conduct which resulted in serious injuries to inmates.” The report then delves into OPP records to illustrate examples of brutal incidents.
The report in Item 1 goes into detail regarding Inadequate Policies and Procedures, Inadequate Use of Force Reporting, Inadequate Management Review of Use of Force, and Lack of Investigative Policies and Procedures.
Finding A-2 is that OPP has an Inadequate Classification System that results in inmates being improperly grouped, and produces a situation where “there is very little to safeguard against housing predatory inmates with vulnerable inmates. Not surprisingly, we found a disturbingly high number of assaultive incidents in the multiple occupancy cells.”
Finding A-3 covers Inmate-on-Inmate Assaults, going into detail on 10 incidents between May 2007 and August 2008 calling the situation “a systemic level of violence that poses a serious risk of harm to both inmates and correctional staff at the jail.”
Finding A-4 covers Inadequate Staffing and Inmate Supervision, which explains much about Finding A-2. But this section slams management of the prison, stating that “we found that OPP operates its facility without a staffing plan or analysis to establish the minimum number of security staff needed to safely manage OPP’s population.” This speaks directly to the fact that we elect whomever is popular to be sheriff. Gusman, whose prior positions in city government were purely administrative, is not a lawman or prison specialist. And evidently he hasn’t hired the kind of staff who follow basic guidelines such as this one regarding how many people it takes to safely run a prison with a large population of inmates. Does he rely on any other agencies to help him fill staff shortages when they occur? This report indicates that he has no plan.
On some occasions, the Justice Department report reveals, only a dozen officers were on duty to supervise 900 inmates! Here’s another disturbing quote, “On these occasions, the majority of the multiple occupancy cells housed more than 10 inmates and four of the eight floors had only one officer responsible for over 140 inmates.” If that nightmare doesn’t get you, how about this regarding staffing of the second largest facility at OPP, the Tents, “we found several instances during February 2007 thru May 2008 where the inmate average daily population was more than 580 and the facility had only seven officers on shift.” Of course this “places both inmates and staff at risk.”
There is a typo/flaw in the report, rather than Finding B it jumps to Finding C, (this is a typo, not indicative of anything missing from the report) INADEQUATE MENTAL HEALTH AND MEDICAL CARE. This is where the report obviously refers to Cayne Miceli’s case, though she is listed anonymously as “H.H.” Here is the section in its entirety. Note HOD stands for House of Detention.
“On January 6, 2009, H.H., a 43-year-old woman, stopped breathing while in restraints at OPP. H.H. was sent to HOD-10 hours after intake because she was considered hostile and suicidal. While in HOD-10, H.H. was placed in five-point restraints even after she repeatedly complained of asthma and breathing distress. H.H. did not receive physician or psychiatric care to determine if medication was appropriate or if placing an asthmatic individual in a five-point restraint was acceptable. Although she was under direct observation, H.H. was reportedly seen attempting to get out of the restraints. As OPP staff intervened and placed her in the restraints, H.H.’s body went limp. OPP medical staff responded to assess her condition. She was sent to the emergency room, where she was later pronounced dead.”
This is surely a brief and grossly incomplete telling of the horrors Cayne faced on her date with death at the hands of Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s staff— if indeed there were enough officers there that day to run the jail to satisfy his (now proven inadequate) level of standards.
The report also tells the horrible stories of two other inmates who in 2008 were placed in the restraint systems for more than 24 hours in one case and more than 35 hours in the other.
The damning evidence continues, “OPP has neither a restraint chair nor a safe cell. Inmates are restrained to metal beds affixed to a cell wall. The positioning of the bed prohibits 360 degree access to the inmate and, ironically, is itself a suicide hazard as even restrained individuals can strangle themselves by affixing clothing or sheets to this type of bed.”
I won’t go on with more details. We all know that OPP is a hell hole. But now it’s official, OPP is a threat to the health of all who are incarcerated and/or work there.
The Justice Department politely concludes the report with a pledge to assist and cooperate in helping OPP implement remedies. And it equally politely states that if “we are unable to reach a resolution regarding our concerns, the Attorney General may initiate a lawsuit,” and gives Sheriff Gusman “49 days after appropriate officials have been notified” to get started.
With the elections coming up, this report is damning of Gusman’s management and care, not only of the inmates and citizens of New Orleans, but of his own staff. I find this whole situation reprehensible and outrageous. I hope and pray the people of New Orleans wake up to this horror within our own government. And I also hope that the local papers cover this story in much greater detail than today’s rather short online story.
Cayne Miceli was killed by a chain of events that involved our health care system and our justice system. She received neither care or justice. She was spit-out by a for-profit hospital, then brutally handled by the justice system and died a torturous death at the hands of under-supervised public servants in a jail that is now declared a violation of our Constitution. Welcome to New Orleans, Louisiana U.S.A. in the 21st Century.
If Charity Hospital had been up and running, something we all know was possible within months of the flood and surely by January 2009, Cayne would be alive today. If Tulane/Hospital Corporation of America lived up to the highest principle of care for its patients, Cayne would have never been arrested. And if Sheriff Marlin Gusman was good at his job, his jail would not be a cesspool into which people go in whole and come out damaged or dead.
Our taxes support all these institutions and their managers, including Tulane/HCA. As we strive to make New Orleans whole again, we cannot allow these fundamental systems to operate in this manner.
And we cannot continue to elect incompetent people to positions of power, for it is killing us, quite literally.
Today’s Times-Picayune reports that the ACLU is looking into deaths at Orleans Parish Prison. Near the end of the article it reads: Gusman emphasized that Miceli, who stopped breathing less than five hours after she was put into the restraints, didn’t die at the jail but at University Hospital. She was taken by ambulance to the hospital after she was resuscitated by jail medical staff.
“She was revived,” Gusman said. “She didn’t die here.”
It’s just as I noted in my original post, hardly anyone “officially” dies in jail. Except this time, the facts are even more horrible. Cayne Miceli, a severe asthmatic for years, was restrained flat on her back with a heavy strap across her torso FOR MORE THAN FOUR HOURS! Sheriff Gusman said it himself.
Orleans Parish Prison is a torture chamber. It violates basic human rights and international laws regarding detainees. It must be held accountable. Nobody is safe. Going to jail for a municipal charge, without arraignment, can result in a death sentence with no judge, no jury, no indictment and no mercy.
I am ashamed of my city right now.
The family is holding a Catholic Mass in remembrance of Cayne on Saturday, Jan 24 at 10AM at Our Lady of the Gulf in Gulf Shores, AL where Cayne spent her childhood. Friends are planning other events and memorials as well. Information can be found first at the Yahoo group dedicated to Cayne.
UPDATED 1/10/09: Note: When I originally wrote this, many facts were unclear. Now that more information is available, I have re-written parts of this piece to reflect more accurately the chain of events and overarching realities that have come to light. This being a blog and not a printed publication, it is a living document and one that can be improved and edited to improve its veracity. I hope that’s what I’m doing. Regardless, I cannot possibly capture all the truths at work here. Suffice to say, Cayne turned to the system for help and it killed her.
Update: Jan 13, 2009-Shoeless Eric was with the family at Cayne’s bedside when the decision was made to remove her from life support. He’s created a moderated group site where you can find more information about what happened and what is going to happen: http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/caynemiceli
Here is Cayne’s MySpace page, updated on the day she sought medical treatment.
Update Jan 14, 2009: Karen Dalton-Beninato’s blog on Huffington Post today is about Cayne. It’s a beautiful piece and features a piece Cayne wrote.
The lack of psychiatric beds, health care resources and basic human rights in New Orleans produced yet another tragedy. After being treated at Tulane Medical Center with a powerful steroid, prednisone, for her severe asthma, my friend Cayne Miceli believed she was having an adverse reaction to the drug. She sought to be re-examined and/or admitted and was turned away because the hospital felt it had done its job, and because she had no insurance. Unable to contain her frustration, her emotional state aggravated by the steroids, she flew into a rage and was taken away to jail. She allegedly attempted suicide and was put into 5 point restraints, aggravating both her mental state and her ability to breathe. She reacted badly to the restraints and was further subdued by two jail personnel. Subsequently, she “became unresponsive.” Jail staff intubated and “revived” her so that her “actual” death occurred at University Hospital with the decision of her family to remove her from life support. The facts are still unclear and may not be clarified for a while. But one thing is clear: the system failed her.
Cayne was a vivacious but troubled soul. She had a magical quality that connected her deeply to New Orleans. She was a survivor like the rest of us. She was full of life.
Cayne wasn’t afraid to reach out when she needed support. When she sought medical assistance for her asthma, it wasn’t done lightly. She has lived with asthma for many years. Cayne knew she needed help and did the best she could to get it. In Post-Katrina New Orleans, she found no room for her illnesses.
New Orleans without Charity Hospital is a city without compassion. That we continue to have too few psychiatric beds is unacceptable. That we continue to be haggling over the rebuilding of our health care infrastructure is abominable.
New Orleans is a city filled with Cayne Miceli’s, uncounted troubled and traumatized souls who keep things together most of the time. But when their lungs, hearts and minds can take no more, New Orleans provides no shelter, no bosom into which to retreat because Charity Hospital has not been rebuilt.
I now officially join the voices of those opposed to the tearing down of houses to build a new, fantasy hospital. Charity sits unused and ready to be restored while victims, the detainees–die lonely deaths in jail, our default system for handling the mentally troubled.
The people who seek to extend this process because they refuse to fix Charity Hospital have blood on their hands. I will remind them. Then again, maybe we all have blood on our hands these days.
Note: Jan 10, 2009: It’s clearer to me now that health and justice systems are in a dance of death lottery that can start when you say “I need help!” or merely, “I can’t breathe!”
It’s also clear to me that if someone at Tulane had said, “OK, we’ll examine you again,” instead of “call the police,” Cayne would probably still be with us.
Now that we know more about Cayne’s horrible experiences and death, the lack of beds is only part of this problem.
In Post-Katrina New Orleans, we live with layers and layers and layers of problems, of missed opportunities, of disorganization and incompetence that infect the system from within our “rebuilt” homes to the halls of power in Washington DC. I pray we see that improve in 2009.
I also learned that I have a dear friend whose brother suffered gross mistreatment in a local jail. That this isn’t the first asthmatic to die in a local jail. That the last person to die on that torturous medieval restraint system died a medieval torture death: dehydration.
It’s bad enough my country justified torture. Now I know that my community tortures, too.
And I’ve learned that best estimates put those shining new hospitals opening in 2016.
At the current rate of death and disablement happening in area jails, I’m probably going to personally know several more victims before the next seven years pass.
Our jails and prisons are maiming and killing too many people who often haven’t even been arraigned. And now our hospitals can’t recognize the symptoms of the drugs they administer and dump their patients on the police? Suffice to say I find this unacceptable/abusive/you fill-in-the-blank.
We’re losing basic human rights. I hope we’re waking up.
As Cayne so often said when she reached a stopping point in the conversation: “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Peace & Love! Peace & Love!”