Mysterious Jail Death Raises Questions
DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – The Alfanos walk around their Big Spring home eager to show visitors reminders of their daughter Pam Weatherby. When opening the refrigerator, two remaining bottles of insulin still sit chilling. Weatherby’s wallet is open on the counter with her identification cards and pictures still inside. And, the wall of family pictures is covered with Pam, her children, and even grandchildren. This is clearly a tight knit family which spent a lot of time together.
“Pam has never lived over two miles from us…” said Leon Alfano.
Weatherby lived near-by until…May 12, 2010. That’s when the state sentenced her to one year in the state jail system for drug possession. She eventually ended up at Dawson State Jail, a 10-story high rise right in downtown Dallas. It houses low-security inmates. Most of them are one-time offenders facing convictions for non-violent crimes like writing bad checks, drunk driving and drug possession.
“Everybody knew Pam had to be watched.” Nelda Alfano worried from the start that her daughter, who was a brittle diabetic, would not get the medical attention their family had given her since she was 18-years-old. A brittle diabetic is extremely insulin-dependent and has large swings in blood sugar.
Just weeks after she’d left home, the Alfanos immediately became concerned about not hearing from Pam.
“It wasn’t like Pam not to write,” said Mr. Alfano.
When they finally received a letter from Pam, their fears grew worse. The letter read (in part): I AM STILL ALIVE. I HAVE BEEN IN AND OUT OF THE HOSPITAL THOUGH.
Looking back, Mr. Alfano said, “I knew right then we had a problem.”
Anne Roderick says the Alfanos parental intuitions were right.
“She was to the point where you couldn’t hold a conversation with her,” said Anne Roderick. Roderick lived in the same dorm cell as Weatherby. “She was sick, very, very sick. We would go to the guards. They would give us gloves. We were washing her sheets in a bucket in the shower.”
Roderick says she and other inmates took care of Weatherby’s medical needs because no one else would.
“She was defecating and vomiting. “ She says taking care of Weatherby became a full-time job.
Tena Lee was one of those others helping Roderick. Lee and Roderick said they had to get help on the “outside.” So, they dug through a box of Weatherby’s personal things and found an address for whom they hoped was the Alfanos. They wrote a letter which partly read: TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN. PAM WEATHERBY HAS BEEN IN A FIGHT FOR HER LIFE JUST ABOUT EVERY DAY. SHE NEEDS TO HAVE ANYONE THAT CARES ABOUT HER CALLING. PAM IS IN MEDICAL TROUBLE.”
“That’s when I panicked….There are 28 phone calls to that jail trying to get someone to listen….after I received that letter, “ said Mr. Alfano.
But the Alfanos say they only call they ever received back from the jail was on July 14. A chaplain called to say Pam Weatherby had died.
CBS 11 has obtained jail records which show Weatherby became ill at 10:30 on July 13, was taken to the medical unit, but the staff had gone home for the night. The jail’s policy says that after hours an inmate can speak to a nurse by phone or a video monitor, but that night, no one made that call for Pam Weatherby.
Fighting back tears talking about her daughter’s ordeal, Ms. Alfano said, “A simple phone call and things would have been different for her.”
Jail records show the medical staff came in at 5:00 a.m., checked Weatherby’s condition and called 911. Doctors declared her dead at 6:59 a.m.
“She just laid there on a mat on a cold floor; she just laid there,” said Mr. Alfano.
“I’m sitting here talking to you thinking she was probably lying in the same room I was.” Abby does not want us to use her last night but, she too, was an inmate at Dawson State Jail. Abby says she also thought she was going to die in the facility. She had spiked a 104-degree fever one night. She says another inmate had to “beg the guard” to let her go down to medical. When she finally got there, she says her vision was so blurred she couldn’t sign documents. Abby says her cries for help were ignored when she was put on a cold hard bed and left.
She remembers thinking, “Please don’t let me die here and my mom have to live with me getting sick and passing away while I was in prison because I didn’t want my mom to go through that.”
Abby is one of 14 women who have talked to CBS 11 News about what they experienced or witnessed while serving time at Dawson State Jail.
“Finally they stick me in a cell thinking I had a stomach virus,” explained Danna Parker. Parker, facing time for a DWI, said she stayed in segregation for 10 days without any medical treatment and without a doctor ever coming to check on her.
“I’m laying on a concrete steel frame, unable to move. I don’t have any liquids,” Parker said.
Lorraine Brown wrote a bad check and was sentenced to time at Dawson. “They go wherever they go to pay for their crimes. They didn’t need to pay with their lives.”
Brown is also a brittle diabetic who says she never received her insulin at set times. “It’s a chore for them to do their job.” She says the jail did not provide the appropriate food or exercise for diabetics. Brown says, while she was at Dawson, she had become so sick she too thought she would die and no one was helping her.
And Brown says she was not the only one. She says she watched the staff ignore other sick inmates “on more than one occasion.”
“I watched someone have a stroke and they left her in our dorm without medical care…. She was in a wheel chair, paralyzed form the neck down. We had to bath her, wash and feed her.” Brown says they also wrote a letter to the woman’s family saying “she was up there without medical attention.”
The women all say it was they helped care for each other because no one else would help them.
Dawson State Jail is run by a company called Corrections Corporation of America out of Tennessee. The company would not talk on camera due to pending litigation.
Statement from Corrections Corporation of America:
“Our dedicated, professional corrections staff is firmly committed to the health and safety of the inmates entrusted to our care. We take seriously any allegations of wrongdoing. Inmates are provided a number of ways to communicate concerns about health care to facility management, CCA management and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ).
CCA is not the health care provider at the Dawson State Jail, so the company is not privy to medical-specific information about inmates. Health care services at this facility are provided by the University of Texas Medical Branch in contract with TDCJ. Our team works closely with our government partners to ensure inmates have access to the healthcare service providers at the facility.
As discussed previously, we are unable to speak to the specifics of the Weatherby allegations while the case is in the judicial process. We will respond publicly through that venue. As for the other allegations, there are no complaints on record from those inmates about their access to quality health care.”
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice regulates the jails in Texas. A 1986 state law allowed the state to start privatizing the jails and giving contracts to prison management companies, like CCA.
Charles Terrell, the prison board chairman at the time, helped write that legislation.
“We helped write the bill even though we didn’t think it was needed just to be sure we had some safeguards in it. Our main concern was making a business, a profit making organization out of housing prisons,” says Terrell.
Terrell says he warned the state that private companies may try to cut corners in places like medicine.
“They are getting all these buck so they ought to perform.” Terrell says the “bucks” are coming from taxpayers. “It’s TDCJ’s responsibility to see that the private responders comply.”
CBS 11 has obtained internal CCA documents that show the chief of security, at the time of Pam Weatherby’s death, reported that the supervisors “did not follow proper procedures, in that they did not call a medical professional and advise them of the offender vomiting, prior to the medical staff arriving on the faculty at 0500 hours.” The supervisor recommends “termination” for the shift supervisor on July 15, 2010.
But, eight days later, on July 23, 2010, Senior Warden Raymond Byrd signs document for the state which state, “The actions by employee were consistent with TDCJ policy and procedure. No training needs have been identified at this time.”
“TDCJ should be all over this saying your head of security says this…and the warden just glosses over it,” Terrell said.
“It was really when we got the documents from CCA that we discovered just how egregious things were…” says Stuart Cochran, the Alfano’s attorney.
Cochran says the case was “… originally a civil rights case, but as they got into the facts they realized it was actually much worse than that.”
“The thing that amazes me the most is there is no medical staff at Dawson at night at all. Instead there is a telemedicine policy. The supervisors are supposed to call a completely different unit down in Huntsville and there is a nurse there that is supposed to triage the patient at Dawson.”
For Pam, he says, “They did not make the call. They simply left her to die.”
Cochran says this is now a negligence case against CCA and some of the individuals involved in the incident.
“Pam’s story is out, so now maybe it’s time, enough people have died,” Lorraine Brown said. “People make mistakes and we take responsibilities for those mistakes, we do our time, but people shouldn’t live like that.”
The Alfanos say Pam Weatherby’s one year sentence became a “death sentence.”
Mrs. Alfano wipes away tears. “She was paying for what she had done. She didn’t deserve to die. She didn’t deserve to be not take care of.”
The State of Texas has confirmed seven other inmates died at Dawson since 2004. CBS 11 News is still looking into the circumstances surrounding those deaths. Many of the inmates we talked to made reference to some of these incidents.
Dawson State Jail named a new warden, Michael Phillips, in 2012. Phillips was not there at the time of Weatherby’s incident or the other deaths.