HEADLINE: JURY BLASTS PRISON FIRM FOR LEAVING INMATE'S JAW WIRED
BYLINE: Mickie Anderson; firstname.lastname@example.org
Along with $ 235,000 in damages, an eight-member federal jury Friday handed out a stern scolding as well.
The jury awarded inmate Charles Roy Degan $ 200,000 in punitive damages and $ 35,000 in compensatory damages against private prison company Corrections Corp. of America.
Degan, a CCA inmate whose broken jaw was wired shut, sued the company after the wires were left in too long.
The jurors entered a page-long letter into the record along with their verdict. In it, jurors said they hoped to send CCA a message that would "echo throughout the halls of your corporate offices as well as your corporate housing facilities.
"That message is that the medical needs of those you serve is a right not to be forgotten, omitted, lost, delayed or otherwise denied," they wrote. "This is a basic human right, as important as providing nourishment or shelter to those who are entrusted to your care."
The Commercial Appeal could not reach CCA attorney Tom Anderson of Jackson, Tenn., late Friday afternoon.
Degan, a former Germantown pilot serving time at the West Tennessee Detention Facility in Mason on a charge of interstate travel to facilitate a murder for hire, had his nose and jaw broken by another inmate, the lawsuit said.
His jaw was wired shut and was to stay that way for five to six weeks, attorney Stuart Breakstone said.
Instead, Degan's jaw remained wired shut from mid-October 1998 until Christmas, when Degan spent several excruciating days pulling out the wires himself with nail clippers.
The wires had been in so long that they were embedded in his gums, the lawsuit said.
"He gave himself Christmas Day off," Breakstone said.
A surgeon testified that he uses general anesthesia when he removes such wires, Breakstone said, because a local anesthetic isn't enough.
Degan spent several weeks at the downtown Shelby County Jail because the CCA facility's medical ward was crowded. But his medical records didn't go with him, the attorney said.
Jailers at both institutions ignored his requests for medical attention, the lawsuit said.
Breakstone said the jurors sent a message that "prisoners are people like anybody else."