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Lawsuit claims prison deaths linked to heat
AUSTIN – From Texas Civil Rights Project
The Texas Civil Rights Project and Austin attorney Jeff Edwards filed wrongful death lawsuits in federal court today for the families of Douglas Hudson, Kenneth Wayne James, Rodney Adams, and Robert Allen Webb against Texas prison officials.
Most inmate living areas in TDCJ prisons are not air conditioned. The indoor heat index can regularly reach 130 degrees – temperatures the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration advises are “extremely dangerous.” TDCJ’s own policies recognize such extreme heat makes heat stroke “imminent.” The National Weather Service puts heat as “the number one weather-related killer in the United States, resulting in hundreds of fatalities each year.” On average, heat kills more people than “floods, lightening, tornadoes and hurricanes combined.”
Mr. Hudson, Mr. James and Mr. Adams died at TDCJ’s Gurney Unit in Tennessee Colony, between July 25, 2011 and August 3, 2012. Mr. Webb died at TDCJ’s Hodge Unit near Rusk on August 4, 2011. (Another man, Charles Cook, who is not a party to the suit, also died at the Hodge Unit in August 2011.) Each man was over 45 years old, and suffered from medical conditions, like hypertension, that are known to make people more susceptible to fatal heat stroke. Mr. Adams and Mr. Webb also took medications to treat their mental illnesses that made them more susceptible to heat stroke. “These men were the weakest of the weak,” said Edwards. “TDCJ knew putting men with these medical conditions in temperatures this high could kill them, but they did it anyway.”
“TDCJ’s own policies say these conditions are extremely dangerous,” said Scott Medlock, director of TCRP’s Prisoners’ Rights Program. “The Gurney and Hodge Units are death traps. If TDCJ officers locked a dog in a hot car, they would go to prison for animal cruelty. Doing this to human beings, no matter what crime they were convicted of, is unconscionable.” Since the summer of 2007, thirteen prisoners died of heat-related illnesses across the state. “Prisons don’t need to be comfortable, but these high temperatures mean these men were sentenced to death,” said Medlock.
“My dad had a drinking problem and went to prison for DWI; he wasn’t sentenced to death,” said Ashley Adams, Mr. Adams’ daughter. He was expected to serve less than four years, but died the day he arrived in TDCJ custody. He collapsed shortly after eating his first meal at the prison. When he was taken to the infirmary, his body temperature was 109.9 degrees. “I can’t believe TDCJ would do this. No one deserves to die so cruelly like this.”