Anniston man sues prison contractor over paralysis

·3 min read

May 24—An Anniston man filed suit against a medical contractor for Alabama's prison system, alleging that nurses neglected a medical condition that led to him becoming paralyzed.

In the suit, Patrick DeJuan Neal, 29, claims nurses assigned to Limestone Correctional Facility took weeks to refer Neal's worsening reports of lower-limb paralysis to a doctor, despite multiple requests for treatment.

"It's hard to defend our prison system," said Anniston lawyer Bruce Downey, who filed the suit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama Friday. "We have an inhumane system and this is an example of its inhumanity."

Neal was sent to prison after pleading guilty to burglary in a 2014 incident in which, according to court records, he broke into a Cooper Avenue residence armed with a knife. Court records show he was released into unsupervised probation in June 2020.

Neal was in Limestone, a prison in Harvest, in May 2019 when he began to experience "weakness and partial paralysis of his lower extremity, medically referred to as paraparesis, with pain and abnormal sensations in his lower back and lower extremities," according to the suit. The prison's medical services are provided by Wexford Health, a private company that has a contract with the Department of Corrections.

Other inmates urged Neal to see the prison's medical staff because they believed he'd had a stroke, according to the suit. From May through July, the suit states, Neal submitted six written requests for medical treatments, eventually getting an evaluation from two nurses on July 3, after he had become incontinent.

According to the suit, his next appointment with the nurses came 16 days later, at which point Neal had to be carried to the toilet by other inmates and was brought food by prison staff because he couldn't make it to the cafeteria. When he saw a doctor on July 24, the suit alleges, Neal was using a wheelchair and a catheter. The doctor sent him to the emergency room at a local hospital on July 24 and again on July 25, according to the suit.

An MRI revealed that Neal had transverse myelitis, a spinal cord inflammation that can cause paralysis, according to the suit.

"He had red-flag obvious signs of a serious neurological spinal condition and received no care until he had lost the use of both his legs," Downey said.

Neal is seeking an unspecified amount of compensatory damages against Wexford, Crestwood Hospital in Huntsville, and various doctors and nurses affiliated with both institutions.

The Alabama Department of Corrections, which hired Wexford to provide medical care in prisons, isn't named as a party in the suit. The prison system in past years has been criticized by federal judges for "horrendously inadequate" mental health care, and U.S. Department of Justice in a motion in a federal suit last week alleged that the prison system has done little to address inmate violence, overcrowding and poor prison conditions first found in an investigation in 2016.

Attempts to reach a spokesperson for the Department of Corrections were unsuccessful Monday.

In an email to The Anniston Star Monday, a spokeswoman for Wexford Health wrote that the company "cannot comment on anything relating to a pending complaint/lawsuit."

Downey said Neal's condition has declined since his release last year, and that Neal was in the hospital in Birmingham Monday.

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.

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