Federal lawsuit filed against Oklahoma Department of Corrections after inmate dies from appendicitis

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OKLAHOMA CITY - A federal lawsuit has been filed against several members of the Department of Corrections following the death of an Oklahoma inmate from appendicitis.

According to court documents obtained by News 4, Christina Smith has filed a federal lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma against several members of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections including DOC Director Joe Allbaugh following the death of her son, 21-year-old Joshua England.

"This kid got a death sentence for basically a prank," Attorney Paul DeMuro said.

The family's attorney, Paul DeMuro from Frederic Dorwart Lawyers in Tulsa, calls the incident "utterly unnecessary."

In June of 2017, England was arrested and charged with fourth-degree arson and other related charges. He was sentenced to 343 days in prison and ultimately ended up at Joseph Harp Correctional Center in Lexington.

On May 22, 2018, England asked to be seen by prison health clinic staff due to severe abdominal pain. In his form requesting health services, England wrote that he had been vomiting all night and appeared to be vomiting blood. He also wrote that his stomach "hurts so so bad."

According to the lawsuit, England was seen by medical staff and physicians noted that he had lost nearly six pounds in six days. Although England was holding his abdomen, the staff did not complete an abdominal exam, the complaint alleges.

The next day, England requested health services again, saying that he "could barely breathe." He was seen again, but still no abdominal exam was conducted.

"Joshua's rapid heart rate and elevated blood pressure, combined with his complaints of severe pain and report of rectal bleeding, should have alerted the medical staff and the Medical Defendants that he needed to be seen immediately by a physician. However, once again, Joshua was not seen by a physician and was not given a complete abdominal exam," the lawsuit alleges.

England filed a third request for medical treatment, which was denied because he had already been seen.

Three days later, the complaint alleges that England again requested medical help. An abdominal exam was not performed, but medical staff did call a physician. The physician did not visit England but prescribed Ibuprofen.

"Multiple witnesses who saw Joshua in the days leading to his death observed that he was not eating or drinking, he had lost significant weight, his skin color had changed, he reported stabbing pain to his right side (including by pointing and holding his abdomen), and he seemed different mentally: slow, not 'with it,' and not in his 'right mind,'" the lawsuit alleges.

On May 29, England submitted a fifth sick call request and said his main complaint was that he couldn't breathe.

According to court documents, the medical staff noted that England appeared "distraught and was "sweating profusely." They ordered an EKG, which showed that his heart rate was 158 beats per minute.  Instead of sending him to a medical facility, England was told to wait at the clinic longer to see a physician.

England went back to his cell, where other inmates reported witnessing DOC staff taking a video camera to his cell.

The lawsuit alleges that England told corrections officers that he couldn't walk back to the clinic. At that point, they documented his 'refusal' of medical care and reported that he waived his sick call appointment.

"He can't even scrawl his own name on the release form and then he somehow was in the right mind to refuse treatment," DeMuro said. "It's all a lie."

"A reasonable medical provider would know that Joshua was not refusing treatment but rather demonstrating that he was too sick to walk on his own- and that emergency services were needed immediately," the lawsuit reads. "Despite Defendants' own recognition that Joshua would likely die without immediate emergency care, Defendants knowingly and intentionally left Joshua in his cell to die, attempting to justify their conduct by coercing Joshua to sign a release form when he was plainly extremely ill, very close to death, and incapable of rational thought or decision-making."

Hours later, England died in his cell.

The lawsuit alleges that some of the prison staff falsified medical notes, including one that listed time of service as 8:08 p.m. However, the court documents state that he had been dead for hours by that point.

"On at least five separate occasions over the course of seven days, Joshua sought medical treatment from prison staff at Joseph Harp. On each occasion, Joshua complained of severe abdominal pain and presented with classic symptoms of acute appendicitis. He begged for help. Prison staff refused to provide even the most basic medical treatment for Joshua," the lawsuit alleges.

The plaintiffs point to the fact that the prison staff didn't give England a proper abdominal exam and failed to send him to a nearby medical facility when his condition worsened.

"Instead, corrections officers and medical staff belittled Joshua, and did nothing as Joshua, suffering extreme pain, rapidly deteriorated. As a result of Defendants' callously indifferent treatment, Joshua died alone in his prison cell with a ruptured appendix, after suffering the excruciating agony of acute peritonitis. Defendants then falsified medical records to attempt to cover up their shocking misconduct," the complaint alleges.

News 4 reached out to officials with the Oklahoma Department of Corrections in regards to the lawsuit.

"The Oklahoma Department of Corrections respectfully declines your offer to discuss this lawsuit, thereby allowing the court to sort out the details," a statement by the department read.

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