Deaths soar as population drops from pre-pandemic highs, medical needs neglected amid staffing collapse

Pittsburgh City Paper, 03/15/23: “Gerald Thomas was depressed. It was early March 2022 and he’d been incarcerated in the Allegheny County Jail for almost a year on a probation violation. Just a few weeks earlier, his family thought he was coming home after his attorney convinced the court that the March 2021 police search of his vehicle that produced a firearm was illegal. Prosecutors dropped the charges against Thomas, but Court of Common Pleas judge Anthony Mariani wanted Thomas sent to state prison and said, ‘I have to put you in the cage, lasso you, corral you, stuff you, because you won’t quit.’

In mid-February, Thomas was sent back to jail after the second hearing on his probation violation. On March 6, Thomas complained of a pain in his left leg that went untreated for about a week. That day, after he ended a video call with his girlfriend who had recently given birth to his fourth child, a daughter, Thomas collapsed near his cell on the upper tier of the jail.

Several incarcerated people attempted to help Thomas after he fell down at around 12:20 p.m., according to witness interviews conducted by the Abolitionist Law Center, a Pittsburgh-based public interest law firm, and a recent National Commission on Correctional Health Care report. Jail staff sent them back to their cells and handcuffed Thomas. Someone yelled, ‘Medical emergency!’ according to an incarcerated witness. Nurses and a medical provider rushed to his body. The medical provider slapped his face, thinking he was overdosing. Thomas was administered Narcan twice. One member of the jail staff called 911, and eventually paramedics arrived. They strapped a machine to Thomas’s chest that performed compressions. After being unconscious on the floor for over an hour, Thomas was loaded onto a gurney.

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