Former inmate alleges medical neglect at Joshua Tree jail cost him his legs and a hand
A former inmate at the San Bernardino County sheriff’s jail in Joshua Tree alleges in a federal lawsuit that medical neglect he suffered while in custody led to the amputation of his legs and left hand.
Perry Belden, 28, and his mother, Robin Olds, both of Twentynine Palms, allege in their lawsuit filed May 13 in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles that during his weeklong stint at the Morongo Basin jail in Joshua Tree, Belden was denied medical treatment to the point where he was ultimately hospitalized and diagnosed with severe dehydration, sepsis and renal failure.
Belden’s medical problems prompted the amputation of both of his legs below the knee, as well as his left hand. His right hand remains permanently scarred and deformed, according to the lawsuit.
On March 29, two days after his incarceration and while en route to court for an appearance, Belden, an admitted heroin addict, told deputies “something was wrong,” that he was “seriously sick” and that it was “something different than withdrawals,” to which the the deputies replied, “That’s what happens when you’re a crackhead,” according to the lawsuit.
Belden was taken back to the High Desert jail after his court appearance and his condition worsened, the lawsuit alleges.
On April 2, during his arraignment before Judge Bert L. Swift, Belden was unable to walk and was dragged into the courtroom by two deputies. His mother was present, and said her son “looked like death” and had bruising on his arms. Belden was taken back to jail following the arraignment.
Asked if the judge noticed anything unusual about Belden’s appearance and demeanor in court that day, and whether judges could order that defendants receive immediate medical attention if they believe it is necessary, San Bernardino Superior Court spokesman Dennis Smith said in an email: “This case is still under active court jurisdiction, therefore the court may not comment.”
No treatment in lockup
According to the lawsuit, jail records show that Belden did not receive any medical treatment while in custody in Joshua Tree, and that video surveillance shows he was unconscious most of the time.
“You don’t get that sick and dehydrated without showing deathly ill signs for at least two to three days before that,” said Sharon Brunner, one of Belden’s attorneys, in a telephone interview. Brunner, along with law partner Jim Terrell and San Diego attorneys Christopher Morris and Danielle Pena, filed the lawsuit on behalf of Belden and Olds.
“His entire life has changed. It’s one of the saddest cases Jim (Terrell) and I ever dealt with,” Brunner said of Belden.
Belden’s arrest stemmed from an assault on his stepfather that occurred on March 17, 2018, according to the lawsuit and a criminal complaint filed with the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office on March 28, 2018. The lawsuit states the incident occurred on March 16.
Belden subsequently pleaded guilty, on April 2, 2018, to one felony count of battery causing serious bodily injury and one felony count of vandalism. He was initially sentenced to state prison, but his sentence was reduced to supervised probation, according to online court records.
Belden was slapped with the vandalism charge after he fell through the attic he was hiding out in the day of his arrest. He had been negotiating his surrender with deputies that day, but hid out in the attic our of fear of being shot when he spotted deputies approaching the house he had been staying at armed with assault rifles, according to the lawsuit, which notes a deputy told Belden’s mother that Belden “would be shot” if he didn’t turn himself in.
Doctors warned of medical condition
Deputies detained Belden and took him to the Hi-Desert Medical Center in Joshua Tree on March 27 because he fell through his friend’s attic and suffered abrasions. Doctors informed deputies Belden was a heroin addict, that he would be suffering withdrawals and seizures, had been prescribed the anti-seizure drug Klonopin, and would need daily monitoring of his medical condition, according to the lawsuit.
“The doctors also gave the jail strict medical instruction to take Perry’s daily vital signs,” the lawsuit states. “According to medical professionals, it is not medically possible for a person to become so critically ill with severe dehydration and renal failure in less than three or four days without showing obvious signs of severe distress.”
Jail records, according to the lawsuit, show that Belden was not administered the Klonopin prescribed to him while he was incarcerated at the jail. Additionally, Belden had told nurses at the jail he was “seriously sick,” but his complaints were ignored, and he was never treated or seen by a doctor.
It wasn’t until April 3, when Belden was transferred to the West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga, that he was finally administered the anti-seizure medication prescribed by a doctor at Hi-Desert Medical Center on March 27. The following day, on April 4, nurses at the jail took Belden’s vital signs. His blood pressure was 145/98. Belden had defecated in his pants and he complained of severe abdominal pain.
He was taken to Arrowhead Regional Medical Center, where he subsequently underwent his surgery and remained there for six months, his attorneys said.
Medical neglect alleged before
In the past five years, numerous allegations of physical abuse by deputies and medical neglect involving inmates have surfaced against the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, prompting the filing of a class-action lawsuit against the department by the Prison Law Office, a Berkeley-based prisoner rights nonprofit. The case was settled last March, when Belden was charged with his crimes. Among the things Sheriff John McMahon agreed to do, under the terms of the settlement agreement, was expand health-care services for inmates.
In December, a federal judge approved a consent decree between the county and Prison Law Office, which is monitoring inmate health care and treatment.
The Sheriff’s Department, despite its best efforts and cooperation with Prison Law Office, is sorely lacking in inmate medical and mental health care services, said PLO Executive Director Donald Specter.
“For the medical and mental health, they’re going to need to augment substantially the human resources they have, both for custody staff and medical staff, to provide adequate treatment,” Specter said.
Sheriff’s spokeswoman Jodi Miller declined to comment Monday due to the ongoing litigation.