Nicholas Overfield (Photos from his family’s attorneys)
An inmate whose HIV-positive diagnosis devolved into AIDS died because the medical staff at the California jail where he was housed denied him lifesaving medication even though they had his prescription and were told he needed it to survive, a new federal wrongful death lawsuit alleges.
Nicholas Overfield, 38, couldn’t stand or speak and was in a wheelchair when his mother visited him at the El Dorado County Jail on April 22, 2022. He died months later after being transferred out of the jail and then to two hospitals and a hospice. The lawsuit, filed in a federal court in California on Tuesday, names El Dorado County and Wellpath Community Care, LLC, the jail’s health care contractor.
“Nick’s case is a harrowing example of Wellpath’s failure to provide basic human rights and medical care to detainees,” said Patrick Buelna, civil rights attorney with Oakland-based Pointer & Buelna LLP, in a news release. “His unnecessary suffering and death highlight a disturbing pattern by Wellpath, the largest provider of jail medical services in the nation, of disregard for the health and well-being of those in the custody of our justice system. This lawsuit aims not only to seek justice for Nick and his family but to ensure that such inhumane treatment is never repeated in California or anywhere else.”
Attorney Ty Clarke, also with Pointer and Buelna LLP, said Overfield’s isn’t the only such case in California.
“In California alone there are several other documented incidents of Wellpath failing to provide HIV positive individuals with their prescribed medication while in jail,” Clarke said. “Nick’s blood is on Wellpath’s hands and we should all be furious that Wellpath continues to rake in hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars nationwide while providing levels of medical care that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy.”
Representatives from El Dorado County and Wellpath did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Law&Crime.
Court documents spell out the details of the case that started when Overfield was arrested in February 2022 and booked into the Northern California jail about 135 miles northeast of San Francisco. He was taken into custody for a failure to appear in court.
During his arrest at his home, he told officers he was HIV positive and needed his prescribed antiretroviral medication during his detention. His mother, Lesley Overfield, handed the medication to the officers who took it with them, court documents said. But court documents, citing medical records, allege that during the two months he was held at the jail, he never received his medication.
By April 22, 2022, his health had spiraled, court documents said. Too weak to walk, he was brought into a visiting room in a wheelchair for a visit with his mom.
“He was visibly disoriented and could not speak to his mother,” the lawsuit said.
She was so concerned she rushed out of the room to ask the deputy what had happened to her son.
“The deputy told her that she would have to ask her son — an especially cruel response given that he could not speak — and then left the building,” court documents said.
The next day, his mother contacted a jail nurse about her son’s condition. She was informed he was in the infirmary because he had “lost control of his bowels,” the lawsuit said.
That night, he was rushed from the jail to Barton Memorial Hospital in South Lake Tahoe because of “progressive weakness” and an altered mental state, court documents said. He had been falling frequently and couldn’t move for a few days.
A jail nurse told a hospital nurse he “has not had access to his HIV medications since taken (sic) into custody in February,” the complaint says, citing a medical record dated April 24, 2022.
He was transferred from the Lake Tahoe hospital to a hospital in San Francisco for further treatment due to the severity of his condition.
“Tragically (because this was all preventable), he was placed into hospice care soon after and died on June 21, 2022,” court documents said.
The death certificate lists the immediate cause of death as encephalitis varicella-zoster virus.
“The death certificate indicates that there were two months between the onset of this condition and Nick’s death, meaning that Nick contracted this ultimately deadly condition while he was a pretrial detainee at El Dorado County Jail,” said the lawsuit, which alleges negligence, breach of duty, negligent supervision, management or control, violation of public policy, and failure to provide constitutionally adequate medical care.
“Defendants were either unaware of or, worse, ignoring the severity of Nick’s general health and medical condition until they were forced to confront those things by his mother,” the lawsuit continued. “This is a shocking failure to provide even the bare minimum of medical care to a pretrial detainee who was HIV positive.”
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