Statement claims OPP inmate requested medical help, was left unsupervised on night before death



Ricky Russell, a 26-year-old mentally ill inmate found dead in his cell at Orleans Parish Prison last week, had requested medical help the night before and was left in his cell without supervision overnight, claims another inmate in a court filing today.

Jaime Hernandez, who was housed on the same tier as Russell in OPP's Conchetta facility, gave a declaration on Feb. 9 that was submitted as an exhibit in the ongoing OPP consent decree litigation in U.S. District Court today. According to Hernandez, Russell asked a nurse for help on Feb. 6, the day before deputies reported finding him dead.

"He had a skin infection on his leg and he also wanted to see a psychiatrist. He asked to see the psychiatrist a lot," the statement says. "The two nurses told him to file a sick call, then they left and he went back in his cell. I remember him saying, 'I'm tired. I'm tired of this.' He also said that he wanted to go upstate [presumably state treatment at the Eastern Louisiana Mental Health System]. I guess he thought he would get more help outside of OPP."

Hernandez says that Russell, a second-degree murder suspect who reportedly suffered from long-term mental illness, was acting strangely that night, laughing loudly until about 2 a.m.

"I thought he had gone to sleep," the statement says.

Hernandez believes Russell may have taken too much of the psychotropic medications staff administered. Hernandez claims that Russell was given "45 pills of both Depakote and Wellbutrin every Wednesday."

Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office (OPSO) officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment. [Update: The Sheriff's Office released a statement Thursday evening.] But an OPSO statement released after Russell's death notes that Russell, while mentally ill, had denied being suicidal, "therefore he was not on suicide watch, which calls for a deputy to monitor him on direct observation." Hernandez corroborates this, saying he advised Russell to tell the medical staff he was suicidal "to get help."

(More after the jump)

According to Hernandez, deputies checked on Russell only once that night, at 7 p.m. for roll call, and didn't return until he was found unresponsive just before 5:30 a.m. According to a report in The Times-Picayune, autopsy results should be available early next month.

"Deputies and medical staff don't monitor us right, especially people suffering with mental illness," the statement says.

Hernandez's was one of dozens of new declarations submitted to U.S. District Court today as part of the consent decree lawsuit. Attorneys for the Southern Poverty Lawsuit turned them in as part of a motion requesting final approval of a plaintiff class that would include all current and future OPP inmates.

One section of the OPP consent decree, which is awaiting final approval, would require deputies to perform frequent inmate checks, "conduct appropriate rounds at least once during every 30 minute period, at irregular times, inside each general population housing unit and at least once every 15 minute period of special management prisoners, or more often if necessary."

Read the Jaime Hernandez declaration: RickyRussell.pdf

Read all declarations submitted today: Declarations.pdf

The Sheriff's Feb. 7 statement:

NEW ORLEANS — Feb. 7, 2013 — At approximately 5:23 a.m. this morning, Inmate Ricky Russell, a Caucasian male born April 13, 1986, was found by Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office deputies to be unresponsive. Sheriff’s Office Medical Staff and Orleans Parish EMS pronounced inmate Russell dead, after attempting to revive him.

Inmate Russell was arrested June 13, 2012, and ultimately indicted on a charge of second degree murder in the case of an elderly female from Gentilly, who was strangled and bludgeoned to death. He was also charged with violation of parole.

“Inmate Russell did not respond for breakfast this morning. Deputies attempted to awaken Russell, who was non-responsive, and immediately contacted OPSO Medical Staff. New Orleans EMS responded immediately and worked with the Sheriff’s Office Medical Staff to revive the inmate. Those efforts were unsuccessful. There were no signs of trauma at the scene,” said Dr. Samuel Gore, OPSO medical director.

The case is under investigation, but a preliminary autopsy has ruled out murder as a cause. The patient was housed alone and there were no signs of violence. Accident, self-injury and medication reaction are being considered, pending final autopsy results.

Inmate Russell was housed in the Conchetta inmate housing facility in a cell by himself. He had been in custody since June 2012 and had received regular medical exams, which included evaluations for any suicidal tendencies. He denied being suicidal, therefore he was not on suicide watch, which calls for a deputy to monitor him on direct observation. He was housed in protective custody and monitored accordingly. Russell was last seen in clinic on Friday, Feb. 1. During that examination, he had no physical complaints, and denied suicidal ideation.

The OPSO has notified the New Orleans Police Department about this incident. A full autopsy, including toxicology testing, is pending with the Orleans Parish Coroner’s Office.

This is the first death inside an OPSO facility since August 2011.

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