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Yolanda Evett Patterson Hemphill, 28
Gastonia, North Carolina
August 20, 2004

Agencies: State Bureau of Investigations SBI North Carolina | Gaston County Police Department North Carolina | Division of Prisons - Health Services DPS North Carolina

Last updated: 2 months ago

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September 1, 2004
Hugh Locklear Jr. did not have a trial. Yolanda Evett Patterson had not been charged with a crime. Yet each received a death sentence while incarcerated in Gaston County.  Officials at the Gaston County Jail need to find out why, and how to keep it from happening again.  Mr. Locklear, 21, died Sunday in the Gaston jail awaiting trial on drug and larceny charges. Ms. Patterson died at Gaston Memorial Hospital Aug. 20 after she stopped breathing in the jail. She was awaiting charges in connection with shoplifting.  Autopsies are not complete. Local and State Bureau of Investigation probes are under way. But contradictory facts raise specific questions about the care taken in Gaston County when medical emergencies arise behind bars. The circumstances of these deaths also warrant a pointed examination of the record of a private company paid to provide health care to prisoners.  Mr. Locklear's father, also a prisoner in the jail, said his son was epileptic and did not receive his medication. A jail nurse and the Gaston sheriff said the son did not cooperate and refused medical treatment.  Ms. Patterson's cousin, who faces charges of misdemeanor larceny, said she complained of breathing problems after being taken into custody. Yet jail officials did not respond for about 20 minutes, the cousin said, and called Ms. Patterson "a good actor."  Any police officer will tell you: Suspects in custody are quick to cry medical emergency if they think it will buy them preferential treatment in the harsh confines of a jail. It is often difficult to judge the difference between distress and a disruptive ploy.  Yet allegations that two prisoners' needs were either bypassed or ignored -- a response that may have contributed to their deaths -- must be resolved.  The record of Prison Health Systems merits scrutiny as well. Palm Beach County, Fla., officials said the company's performance in nine inmate deaths persuaded jail officials to drop it as a health care provider. In New York, the state Commission of Corrections has issued two reports critical of PHS's performance since 2001 in connection with two prisoner deaths.  Privatizing services is a proven way to reduce the cost of local government for citizens. Yet accountability is often the rub. Medical care in particular is difficult to monitor with quantitative measures because it requires subjective decisions.  Most ordinary citizens have never seen the inside of a jail cell. They do not give much thought to details like medical care for prisoners. Yet they bear the financial and moral responsibility for how suspects are treated when in public custody.  All citizens, then, have a direct interest in finding out what happened when two suspects held in Gaston's jail died. A medical emergency behind bars should not equate to a death sentence.  (The Charlotte Observer)

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