Arizona Prisoner Dies from Hepatitis C After Filing Notice “I Am Being Killed”

These articles from the Phoenix New Times and AZCentral show the rampant medical mistreatment in the Arizona prison system for Hepatitis C. Five death row inmates since 2014 in the Arizona prison system have died from Hepatitis C-related issues.

Mumia narrowly escaped death a few years ago from a Hepatitis C infection, which the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections refused to diagnose and treat. The Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia participated in the international campaign to save Mumia’s life, organizing demonstrations at the JP Morgan’s annual biotech conference at the Westin St. Francis, as well as Gilead Sciences’ headquarters in Union City in January 2016. Gilead manufactures Harvoni, which cures Hepatitis C. The company charges upwards of $ 10,000 for each pill ($95,000 for a 12-week course of treatment).

Arizona Prisoner Dies After Writing ‘I Am Being Killed’ in Court Document

 | FEBRUARY 7, 2019 | 12:12PM

An Arizona state inmate died of health complications six weeks after he filed a court document claiming that he was “being killed” due to inadequate medical care.

Richard Washington died on January 31 in the prison infirmary, according to a spokesperson for the Arizona Department of Corrections. He died of complications related to diabetes, hypertension, and hepatitis C, according to an investigator with the Pinal County Medical Examiner’s office.

Washington, who was being housed at Arizona State Prison Complex – Florence, was 64. He was serving a 63-year sentence on armed robbery convictions.

Washington is the second case since 2017 in which a Florence inmate filed a court record raising concerns about imminent death before actually dying.

About six weeks before his death, Washington wrote a court filing titled “Notice I am being killed.”

Click here to read the document

Richard Washington
Arizona DOC

Washington claimed in his filing that the corrections agency was “actively refusing” to give him medication for his medical conditions, including “diabetes, liver conditions, and blood pressure issues.”

“My greatest fear is that I’m going to die more sooner than later should this treatment — or lack there of — continues [sic],” Washington wrote in a document dated December 15, 2018.

Washington filed the document in the docket for Parsons v. Ryan, the federal lawsuit that resulted in a settlement requiring Arizona prisons to improve healthcare services at facilities and conditions in solitary confinement units. The Parsons settlement, reached with the American Civil Liberties Union in 2014, outlines more than 100 health-care standards for the ADOC.

In June, a federal judge found the state prison system in contempt of court for failing to meet Parsons settlement requirements. U.S. Magistrate Judge David K. Duncan imposed fines of $1.5 million on the prison system.

Arizona currently contracts with Corizon, a private company, to provide its health-care services. Beginning on July 1, state prisons will switch to a different healthcare provider, Centurion, following whistleblower reports on KJZZ of shoddy record-keeping by Corizon.

Corene Kendrick, a staff attorney with the Prison Law Office, said she saw Washington’s court notice in the Parsons docket on Wednesday evening, the same day the U.S. District Court of Arizona officially filed the record. The Prison Law Office serves as co-counsel with the ACLU on the Parsons case.

Kendrick says it’s unclear why Washington’s notice is dated six weeks before it was actually filed in the court.

She said Washington’s case reminded her of a case in 2017 when an Arizona inmate named Walter Jordan predicted his death from cancer in a court document in the Parsons docket titled “Notice of Impending Death.”

Jordan wrote on August 29, 2017, “ADOC and Corizon delayed treating my cancer. Now because of there [sic] delay, I may be luckey [sic] to be alive for 30 days. The delayed treatment they gave me is causing memory loss, pain.”

Jordan died on September 7, 2017, from cancer. Three months later, Todd Wilcox, a medical expert, filed a declaration in the Parsons case stating, “Mr. Jordan’s case was unfortunate and horrific, and he suffered excruciating needless pain from cancer that was not appropriately managed in the months prior to his death,”

Like Washington, Jordan was housed at Florence.

Arizona death-row inmates killed by hepatitis C, not lethal injection

Since executions were put on hold by a federal judge in 2014, five Arizona death-row inmates have died of “natural causes.” All of them were related to hepatitis C infections, according to attorneys and relatives of the dead prisoners.

The medical director at the Arizona prison complex that until last year housed the majority of death-row inmates recently testified that up to 80 percent of inmates in that complex were infected with the disease.

Official Arizona Department of Corrections statistics paint a less dire picture.

Hepatitis C is a blood-borne viral infection that mostly affects the liver, causing cirrhosis, or hardening of the liver, and cancer. It can complicate other maladies such as kidney disease and diabetes.

Once incurable, it now can be effectively treated with expensive antiviral medication. It is mostly contracted by sharing needles among drug users but can also be spread by sex, infected piercing or tattoo needles, or by sharing razors and toothbrushes.

If left untreated and it progresses to cirrhosis, it can kill a person outright, cause liver cancer and kidney failure, and hamper the immune system to a point where it cannot fight off common bacterial infections, according to Dr. Rena Fox, a San Francisco-based physician who has studied hepatitis C in prison populations.

The most recent Arizona death-row inmate to die was Brian Dann on March 1. Dann sued the director of the Arizona Department of Corrections last year to be treated with antiviral drugs.

In his handwritten complaint, Dann wrote: “Plaintiff has suffered documented irreparable damage to his liver, with corresponding, severe joint pain, debilitating fatigue and cognitive/physical impairment that curb (sic) daily function. Without prompt treatment, these symptoms will exponentially progress in an imminently premature death.”

Dann got the drug treatment, but his liver was so badly damaged that he needed a bypass operation to allow blood to flow past his liver. He died on the operating table.

The disease has become a problem nationwide. A 2016 study by faculty at Yale and Harvard universities stated that 10 percent of inmates in state prisons have hepatitis C. The study also stated that a 12-week course of drugs to treat the infection can cost from $43,000 to $94,500.

Infection rampant in prison population

Dr. Rodney Stewart, who works for Corizon Correctional Healthcare, the health-management company that provides care in Arizona prisons, testified March 14 in a U.S. District Court hearing over Arizona prison health care.

He told the court that 2,700 of the 5,000 inmates at the department’s Eyman Complex suffered from chronic illnesses,especially hepatitis C.

Eyman is a maximum-security complex that housed the state’s death-row prisoners until last year. The most dangerous death-row inmates and many who have disabilities remain in Eyman.

On direct questioning by Magistrate Judge David Duncan, Stewart also estimated that 80 percent of the Eyman inmates are infected with hepatitis C.

Corrections Department reports, on the other hand, say 6,243 of the 41,681 prisoners in the entire Arizona Department of Corrections population have hepatitis C, which comes to 15 percent.

The Corrections Department did not provide specific figures for Eyman.

“I doubt that was well-collected data,” Fox said of the 80 percent estimate.

“Generally (in prison populations), it’s in the 30 to 40 percent range, which is staggeringly high,” Fox said, pointing out that the incidence in the general population is about 1.6 percent.

Fox said, “Most inmates who have hep C are not contracting it in prison, they came in with it,” because of a proclivity for drug use.

 A spokesman for the Corrections Department said, “The department treats hepatitis C inmates pursuant to, and consistent with, Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) guidelines.”

Those federal guidelines include an “opt-out” provision, meaning that prisoners can voluntarily refuse testing. Then treatment depends on the level of cirrhosis.

Executions on hold in the state

 Arizona currently has 116 people on death row, according to the Corrections Department. The state has not executed any death-row prisoners since July 2014 because of litigation and the unavailability of suitable drugs to carry them out.

The last person executed in Arizona was Joseph Wood. His execution took nearly two hours because the state was experimenting with a combination of drugs that did not work quickly and effectively. A group of inmates then filed suit in federal court and a U.S. District Court judge shut down all executions until the case was litigated.

Although the case was settled, no further executions have yet been scheduled because the Corrections Department has so far not obtained either of the two drugs approved for execution in Arizona: sodium thiopental and pentobarbital.

Since then, five death-row inmates have died. Information on their deaths comes from attorneys, families and medical records.

  • George Lopez died Oct. 12, 2016, of liver cancer, liver and kidney failure and cirrhosis, complications of hepatitis C. Lopez was on death row for killing his infant son in Tucson in 1989.
  • Albert Carreon died Sept. 8, 2017, of a strep infection that he could not fight off because his immune system had been compromised by hepatitis C and cirrhosis. He was in prison for killing two people in Chandler in 2001.
  • Shawn Lynch died Nov. 4, 2017, of complications from hepatitis C. Lynch was in prison for killing a Scottsdale man in 2001.
  • Graham Henry died February 9, 2018, of liver and kidney failure, complications of hepatitis C. Henry murdered a Las Vegas man in Mohave County in 1986.
  • Brian Dann died March 1, 2018. Dann was sentenced to death for killing three people in Phoenix in 2001.

Last November, Dan visited with The Arizona Republic at death row in Florence for a story of how most death-row prisoners had been moved out of solitary confinement into a close-custody situation where they could interact with each other.

Dann provided a tour of his cell, and over the door he had pasted a sign that read, “Due to recent budget cuts, the light at the end of the tunnel has been turned off.”