photo by Jodi Ford
When Carlos Payne was released from the Buncombe County Detention Center in August 2001, he was immediately charged with violating probation. (Under the terms of a plea bargain, Payne had served 90 days as part of his 16- to 20-month "special probation" for death by motor vehicle.)
Payne stood trial on the probation-violation charge in November of that year; he was convicted and served 17 months in a series of state prisons.
Payne's violation consisted of breaking Detention Center rules. While an inmate, he repeatedly yelled at guards and nurses and communicated threats, according to jail records. But what was Carlos Payne shouting about?
According to Detention Center medical records obtained by Xpress, Payne was being denied prescription medication to control his hypertension. Payne says he knew he had possibly life-threatening hypertension and was desperate to get the proper medication.
Payne and other inmates have also reported being denied showers and being forced to sleep on bare concrete, and a former jail guard who requested anonymity maintains that improper medication may have contributed to the death of inmate Marvis Davidson in the Detention Center last July 8 (see below).
An agitated state
Twelve days after his jail sentence began, Payne had a physical that noted his high blood pressure, and he told the nurse he was taking prescription medication. Repeated tests administered by the jail's nursing staff produced readings as high as 170/108 and 190/100, but Dr. David Bate, the physician in charge of medical care at the jail, denied Payne's request for medication.
Ironically, it was Bate who had prescribed the medication to begin with, while Payne was a client at the Swain Recovery Center in Black Mountain. Bate had even subsequently changed the prescription to a stronger drug in an attempt to control the problem. At that time (October 2000), Payne's blood-pressure readings were ranging from 162/98 to 178/117, according to Swain Center records.
Yet in the jail records, Bate's signature appears under the sentence "IM's BP WNL, esp. considering his agitated state [translation: inmate's blood pressure within normal limits]. No BP meds needed @ this time."
According to the National Hypertension Association, "Studies have shown conclusively that risk begins with systolic pressure exceeding 120 and diastolic pressure exceeding 80. If hypertension continues untreated for too long, it can permanently damage the heart and arteries and lead to stroke, heart attack, heart failure, severe visual impairment, kidney failure and hardening of the arteries."
Contacted by Xpress, Bate refused to comment.
After making almost daily requests to see the doctor, Payne was scheduled for an appointment on the 35th day of his incarceration. According to his medical records, however, the appointment was abruptly canceled. "I could tell they were messing with my head," Payne says now, adding that he didn't believe they were even writing down the results of his blood-pressure tests. After that, says Payne, he refused further blood-pressure checks; this is documented in the record.
All told, Payne was denied the medication for more than 60 days of his 90-day sentence. During that time, the record shows, Payne shouted about it, demanded it, demanded to see a doctor, threatened staff, blacked out and suffered broken teeth and other injuries, and yelled some more. Finally, radiating pain in his head and neck and a high blood-pressure reading landed Payne in the emergency room at Mission Hospitals on July 25, 2001. A doctor there ordered that Payne's medication be resumed, and he was returned to the Detention Center to complete his sentence, according to medical and court records.
During Payne's trial on the probation charge, however, a Detention Center administrator made statements under oath that are contradicted by the jail records. Payne's attorney, Todd Lentz, asked Administrative Lt. Tony Gould, "Specifically, are you aware that he receives treatment and is currently on medication for high blood pressure?"
Gould replied, "No, he didn't state high-blood-pressure medication."
Lentz then showed Gould an inmate-request form, signed by Gould on the 20th day of Payne's incarceration (June 14, 2001), stating that he had high blood pressure and was requesting medication. "Is that your signature at the bottom?" queried Lentz.
Gould: "Yes, sir, it is."
Later, Judge Michael E. Helms asked Gould, "Has this defendant ever complained to you that the reason he's conducting himself [in proscribed ways] is because he's being denied any medication?"
Gould: "No, your Honor."
Yet both Payne's medical records and his incident reports show him repeatedly expressing his need for medication and becoming angry when his requests were denied. At press time, the Sheriff's Department had failed to deliver all the information requested by Xpress. And Administrative Capt. Glen Matayabas, Gould's boss, said that Gould would not answer questions and that Xpress would have to subpoena all other records.
The calm after the storm
In stark contrast to earlier portions of the record, the medical entry for July 26 reads, "explained to [inmate] BP med would begin today, but we had to order & receive from pharmacy. I.M. was cooperative & calm." And from that date forward, Payne's incident reports contain no record of abusive language or threats.
Yet when Judge Helms asked Gould how many threats Payne had made after he'd resumed taking medication, Gould replied, "Ten."
This appears to have surprised Payne, who later in the trial asked to be shown the incident record (which had not been admitted as evidence). He said: "Can I see that? Because I wasn't never disciplined or never told about it."
Judge Helms replied, "You were present in court and you heard him [Gould] testify about it." And when Helms delivered his judgment, he said: "I have no reason at all to believe the testimony of Mr. Payne. He has every reason to not be truthful, whereas I can find no reason whatsoever to question the veracity or credibility of the officer who testified in this case."
As Payne tells it, "After I came back from the hospital, I had three weeks left in my sentence. They kept me in the holding cell or in solitary for the whole time, and I slept on the concrete." During Payne's trial, Gould confirmed the first part of this, stating, "After the 26th, Inmate Payne was housed in Booking."
The judge asked, "It's like solitary?"
"Well, it's a single cell."
"And have there been any incidents while he's been in Booking of him just talking to officers and --"
Interrupting the judge, Gould replied,"No, sir."
According to Payne's testimony during the trial, he was informed at the end of his jail time that he would be charged with probation violation. "Mr. Gould said, 'Well look here, we can change that if you sign this statement.' Mr. Gould had a statement written, and it said that I received proper and adequate medical attention."
Payne told the court he'd refused to sign. He later told Xpress that Gould's response was, "If you don't sign it, you're going to prison."
"A half-hour later," reported Payne, "he came back with Major Stafford and said, 'You're going to prison on a probation violation.'"
Asked about Payne's case, Matayabas told Xpress he had forwarded the questions to Sheriff's Department Attorney Julie Keppel.
Reached by phone, Keppel said: "There's no such release. It would make no sense -- it would be worth less than the paper it was written on, because you can't waive that kind of right."
Sleeping on concrete
Apparently, Payne's is not an isolated case. In a recent presentation to the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, Karen VanEman, who chairs the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said she's received numerous complaints about inhumane conditions and unprofessional medical treatment at the jail.
Meanwhile, at an April 18 ACLU forum, former Buncombe inmate Joshua McKinney said he'd been forced to sleep on a bare concrete floor while in a holding cell at the facility, adding that other inmates had been kept under such conditions for as much as 14 days (see "Jail Forum Sidesteps Local Issues," April 27 Xpress).
Prisoners in the holding cells are not provided with personal-care products and are denied showers, McKinney reported, adding that toilet paper is in very short supply.
This is consistent with what Payne has told Xpress. "When I said I wanted a shower, they told me I'd have to be in shackles -- hand and foot, with a chain between them -- for me to get a shower," said Payne. "I asked them how I was supposed to take a shower when I was in chains, and they said that was the way it would have to be."
Former inmate Edgar O. Teague Jr., who served 10 days beginning March 28, 2005, tells a similar story about the conditions in holding. "There were up to 32 people in my cell at one time, with no shower. I finally told them that another inmate had urinated on me, and they let me out to get a shower," said Teague. "Some of the other inmates saw what I did and claimed the same thing, so they got showers, too."
Asked about these reports, Keppel explained that all inmates are issued personal-care products when they're booked. "Whether they get to keep those items ... is a whole different question, and I don't know the answer to that. I don't think they do, because there are paper and pencils and things that can be bargained for, used as money, or maybe used as shanks [improvised weapons]." Keppel added that there are no regular shower facilities in the booking area.
Teague also alleges that at least one current inmate has a staph infection and that the sanitary precautions in the jail are inadequate. "They use the same mop heads to clean the showers, the commons area and the cells. Those mop heads have been used forever." And although the guards are provided with disinfectant spray, said Teague, "One of the new guards wouldn't even use the spray."
Death behind bars
Inmates aren't the only ones reporting inhumane treatment at the jail. A former guard (who requested anonymity, fearing reprisals) described having seen serious problems while working there.
Two complaints, the guard said, were filed "about [Marvis Davidson's] medical treatment, including failure to correctly administer insulin. And I was told by another guard that Davidson said she had severe stomach pains for four days before she died." the former guard said. Davidson was a diabetic, and her autopsy report says she died due to an ischemia (decrease in blood supply) and resulting hemorrhage of her small intestine. Diabetes is a contributory cause of ischemia, according to First Principles of Gastroenterology, an online textbook.
This was the second death at the jail in less than three years. In September 2001, while Carlos Payne was awaiting trial on the probation-violation charge, Joey Max Rogers was arrested for operating his lawn mower in a drunken state. The medical examiner noted: "Arrested by B.C. Sheriff's Dept. for drunk & disorderly -- apparently was combative -- placed in locked room at approximately 2100 hrs. ... Checked at 2130 & found dead on floor." Neither the medical authorities nor the Sheriff's Department has explained how a highly intoxicated man who was also found to have a high level of phenobarbital in his blood (a legally prescribed medication, according to medical reports) had managed to break his own neck while alone in a locked room.
Keppel, the Sheriff's Department attorney, blames the substandard jail conditions on overcrowding. "We do have a new procedure that's been in effect for approximately a month," she told Xpress. "We have begun to double-bunk by putting an additional mattress and bedding in each of the three different housing units. This causes some difficulty operationally, but it does allow the inmates to be moved within 48 hours to a cell.
"To give you an idea about inmate numbers," continued Keppel, "there were 640 inmates processed in and out of the facility within the last week -- 91 per day. Overcrowding is a huge problem."
The jail, built in 1996, was designed to accommodate 356 inmates. Today, it typically holds 400, according to county Planning Director Jon Creighton. A 92,453-square-foot jail annex, which will add 248 beds, is now under construction and is due to be completed in March 2007.
VanEman, however, says she sees no reasonable connection between overcrowding and failure to provide humane treatment. "Why should incarcerated people not be able to get medical care?" she wonders, adding, "It just doesn't make sense."
Payne, meanwhile, has been busy trying to get his life back on track since his release from prison two years ago. Formerly a licensed commercial truck driver, Payne is now involved in a dispute with the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles, whose records inaccurately list his conviction as being for "death by vehicle involving driving while impaired."
There is no indication in any of the court, jail or prison records obtained by Xpress that Payne's offense involved a DWI. But because of what may be a clerical error, the DMV has told Xpress that it is required to permanently revoke Payne's driving privileges. As this issue went to press, the agency had failed to respond to a follow-up inquiry (mailed April 20) pointing out that simply pulling up the case number cited in the DMV's own records would show that no DWI was involved.
Payne told Xpress that inaccurate court records have been the rule, rather than the exception, throughout his protracted involvement with the North Carolina penal system. "This," he observed,"is nothing new."