Inmates death sparks inquiry
- Nick Budnick
- Portland Tribune - News
Suspect didn't get medical care for apparent pneumonia
According to her family, when police picked up 36-year-old Holly Jean Casey, she told officers she didn't feel well and was on her way to the hospital.
Instead, on Jan. 3, Casey was booked into the Multnomah County Detention Center and died approximately 13 hours later, apparently of pneumonia.
Lying on a concrete floor of a cell on the jail's eighth floor, her calls for help reportedly unheeded, she died alone, suffocating on her own body fluids. Not until several hours later did anyone even notice she had died.
The circumstances of her death, and whether it was preventable, are now under investigation by Multnomah County sheriff's office detectives, assisted by a Gresham police detective.
Such an investigation is standard practice for deaths at the jail. Citing the ongoing investigation, sheriff's spokesman Travis Gullberg declined to comment on any specifics of the case.
'I think we have the best of the best (of sheriff's investigators) on the case, and have reached out to another agency for help,' he said. 'I feel very confident, and I would say the agency feels confident, that they will do a good job on this investigation.'
Though no officials will comment on the record, the preliminary indications filtering out through unofficial channels suggest that when the criminal probe and any other internal investigations are completed, Casey's death is likely to raise questions about the handling of her case by the Multnomah County Corrections Health division, which oversees medical care in the county jails.
Several informed sources say that Casey requested medical help several times before her death, without receiving a response.
Reportedly, there is a discrepancy between accounts from a corrections health nurse and a sheriff's corrections deputy as to whether they responded properly.
Also at issue is whether Casey should have been admitted to jail when she was booked - or instead should have been sent immediately to a hospital.
The questions around Casey's death come at an inopportune time for the corrections health division, as the unit has been criticized by a citizens' corrections grand jury for two years running.
Moreover, the Multnomah County district attorney's office already is overseeing two criminal investigations into corrections health employees, including one that raised questions about the quality of health care provided to an inmate before his death in 2005.
Multnomah County Health Director Lillian Shirley said that while she could not discuss the details of the case, 'people feel terrible about what happened to Ms. Casey. The staff is incredibly upset.'
She said that generally speaking, 'we provide a high level of care. … People in the jails are doing a very good job under very difficult circumstances, and with a vulnerable population.'
'Medical alert' noted
According to jail records, Casey was picked up on a warrant for having failed to appear at a scheduled court appearance for second-degree theft. She was booked into jail at 2:47 p.m. Jan. 3, and, as is standard practice, received a brief medical examination.
Casey's inmate history report lists 'respiratory' under the category 'medical alert,' suggesting corrections health personnel knew she was having problems breathing.
Casey's stepmother, Lynn Baccus, said the preliminary information the family has received from detectives includes that after an examination, Casey was admitted to jail with her paperwork recording her body temperature as normal.
But Baccus said that when Casey's body was examined several hours after her death, at around 8 a.m., her body was still warm, suggesting that she had been running an extremely high fever.
Not only that, but when her body was found, 'she was on the (concrete) floor with just one blanket, so obviously she was hot, and trying to get cooler,' Baccus said.
Baccus said the medical examiner found that at the time of her death, one lung had filled with fluid and the other was half full.
In fact, Baccus said the family has been told by authorities that a fellow inmate also hit the emergency 'help' buzzer due to the noises Casey was making: 'She was gurgling, she was making sounds because she was drowning.'
'Things went downhill'
Casey's family members say the tragic circumstances of her death followed a sad life, in which her drug-using parents - both of whom are dead - encouraged, rather than discouraged, her substance abuse.
'Her mother was emotionally disturbed,' said Casey's stepmother, Baccus. 'Her father was very emotionally disturbed.'
Casey had three kids with one man, but he deserted her.
'She was a really good mother; she just adored those kids,' said Baccus, but added that then another relative introduced her to meth, and 'things went downhill.'
Casey resorted to petty crimes, and gave up her kids for their own well-being.
Her aunt, Shannon Calhoun, said that Casey's dream was to have the sort of life most people have: 'That's all she ever talked about. Have a normal life and be a housewife. She had a tough time growing up, so it was kind of a reach just to (imagine).
'She was a sweet person. She loved her kids very much, even though she couldn't take care of them. She prayed for them every night, and they prayed for her.'