$103 million sought in PRJ death

Published 4:10 pm Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

A lawsuit has been filed by the mother of deceased Piedmont Regional Jail (PRJ) inmate Jason Patrick Sisson. Sisson died on Aug. 22, 2017, only days after being savagely battered by another PRJ inmate. The lawsuit seeks $103 million in damages from defendants including Piedmont Regional Jail Authority (PRJA), various jail and medical staff and Mediko Inc., PRJ’s health provider at the time of Sisson’s death.

“The lawsuit which we have filed has detailed and highlighted in a fashion unlike any other prior litigation a history of abuse and medical neglect at this jail,” said Mark Dix, an attorney for Commonwealth Law Group PLLC, who is representing the plaintiff. “The problems at PRJ have been well-documented/investigated by federal, state and local officials since 2006. It has a horrible track record in terms of how prisoners are treated from the standpoint of medical care.”

The federal complaint filed by the plaintiff alleges that the defendants caused Sisson’s wrongful death through “common law negligence, gross negligence, and/or willful and wanton negligence.”

According to the complaint, Sisson was convicted in January 2017 of possessing a Schedule I/II controlled substance and was sentenced to confinement for a term of 10 years with all but nine months suspended. After Sisson was assaulted by another inmate on Aug. 12, 2017, he was transported to Centra Southside Community Hospital (CSCH) where he was diagnosed with a basilar skull fracture with intracranial injury. He was later transferred to the Medical College of Virginia (MCV) for more acute trauma care.

Sisson was discharged from MCV on Aug. 18, 2017, with a diagnosis that included bilateral temporal bone fractures. He was placed in a single cell and, among other requirements and necessary prescriptions, was to be maintained on a 15 minute watch until approved by medical to return to the general population.

The complaint documents through over 50 screenshots grabbed from the security camera positioned inside Sisson’s cell the events that led up to the inmate’s death.

The complaint cites that Sisson got out of his bed at 3:35 a.m. on Aug. 20, 2017, but was unable to maintain his balance. With his orange jumpsuit around his ankles, Sisson made multiple attempts to get out of his bunk before crashing head first onto the concrete floor of his cell. Sisson crashed to the floor several times and eventually began bleeding from his nose and mouth, but did not receive any response from jail employees.

According to the complaint, Sisson fell five times within 13 minutes in an attempt to walk to and from his cell’s toilet. At 3:52 a.m. medical staff were called to Sisson’s cell where an attempt was made to take his blood pressure and wipe the blood off of his face and hands. Staff placed a blanket on Sisson and departed the cell at 4:09 a.m.

At 5:05 a.m. Sisson began, according to the complaint, pounding on the metal shelf in his cell in order to try to draw attention to himself. He continued to bang on the shelf and writhe about, sometimes temporarily passing out. At 5:30 a.m. he began kicking the door and walls of his cell before passing out again.

At 5:56 a.m. a jail employee brought Sisson a tray of breakfast food and departed the cell without interacting with Sisson.

Ignoring his breakfast, Sisson continued to kick and bang on his cell walls and door until 6:15 a.m., according to the complaint. He began bleeding from his nose and mouth and held up his hand to show the blood to the camera. The complaint states that a correctional officer came into Sisson’s cell, looked at him, turned around and left.

The complaint cites that this cycle of passing out and banging on the cell walls and door continued until 6:25 a.m. when Sisson attempted to get on his feet and a correctional officer entered the cell with an ice pack. Sisson fell to the floor in the presence of the officer, who gave the inmate the ice pack and left. Sisson remained on the floor for more than 16 minutes before he sat up and began beating on his bunk with one of his shoes.

Sisson continued to make noise and bang on objects until 6:59 a.m. when he began foaming at the mouth. According to the complaint a nurse entered the cell at 7:04 a.m., almost three hours since he was last seen by any medical staff. Another nurse and a correctional officer attempted to dress Sisson. At 7:06, Sisson developed involuntary movements on the right side of his body.

A jail employee called 9-1-1 at 7:10 a.m. The complaint cites that EMTs with the Prince Edward Volunteer Rescue Squad arrived at Sisson’s cell at 7:22 a.m. to find the inmate unresponsive.

Sisson was placed on a stretcher and quickly stopped breathing. The complaint stated that he was noted to be pulseless. The EMTs began their first round of CPR on Sisson at 7:28 a.m. inside the booking area that Sisson’s cell was connected to.

Inside the ambulance, Sisson’s pulse briefly returned along with shallow respiration. Sisson again went into respiratory arrest 30 seconds from arriving at CSCH and had his respiration supported by a bag valve mask before arriving at the hospital. Sisson was noted as having massive intracranial hemorrhaging. He was transferred via MedFlight to MCV, where he suffered cardiac arrest. His pulse returned following chest compressions.

By 6:10 p.m. on Aug. 21, 2017, it was determined that Sisson was brain-dead. He remained on life support until being terminally extubated and dying of cardiac arrest at 5:48 p.m. on Aug. 22, 2017. His cause of death was cited as “transforaminal herniation due to epidural hematoma causing brain death and subsequent cardiopulmonary death.”

Nathaniel Jones, a defendant in the lawsuit and correctional officer working at PRJ at the time was fired from the jail due to fraudulent entries into the jail booking housing sheet. Although Sisson was supposed to be on a 15 minute watch cycle, a memorandum of Jones’ employment termination cited that a review of the camera system determined that the appropriate security checks were not made between 12:03 a.m. and 6:53 a.m. on Aug. 22, 2017.

Sergeant Baker, another correctional officer and defendant in the lawsuit, was demoted from sergeant to officer following Sisson’s death for not instructing others to perform the regular security checks.

Defendant Kashka Johnson, a Mediko Inc. employee and licensed practical nurse, was also terminated following an investigation of Sission’s death.

The complaint stated that a previous lawsuit involving the death of another PRJ inmate, Thomas Cubbage, settled out of court for $230,000, noting that Jones was also a defendant in the Cubbage case.

PRJA Superintendent James Davis told The Herald that he could not comment on anything relative to the Sisson case as it is still in litigation. He stated that Mediko Inc. is no longer the jail’s medical provider, and that they now receive health services via a company called Wellpath.

Dix noted that the lawsuit is still in its early stages of serving and receiving responses to the complaint, with no court date set as of Dec. 10.

“Mrs. Sissson, my client, the mother, her greatest hope with this litigation is that things will change at PRJ once and for all and that they will live up to their constitutional duties to provide adequate medical care for inmates,” he added.