MCSO jail deaths, lawsuits considered 'cost of doing business'

The former medical director of Maricopa County jails is set to testify against his former employer on Thursday in a wrongful death lawsuit that could cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

Dr. Wilcox is a nationally-recognized expert in correctional healthcare.

He was hired by the county in 2004 to fix a series of problems inside CHS, the medical provider for Sheriff Joe Arpaio's jails.

But he quit after four years.

In his resignation letter, he wrote his medical license and personal reputation were in at risk if he continued to work with Maricopa County.

"I tried to help them…tried very hard," Dr. Wilcox said in sworn pre-trial testimony. "I realized things weren't going to change.

"It really kind of came to a crisis of conscience," he said.

THE BRAILLARD TRIAL

Dr. Wilcox will testify on behalf of Jennifer Braillard, a woman who filed a lawsuit against Maricopa County and the Sheriff's Office after her mother died in MCSO custody in 2005.

Deborah Braillard was booked into county jail on minor drug possession charges.

She was a diabetic.

During her three days in MCSO custody , Braillard was not provided any medical care or medication. Without insulin, Braillard slipped into a diabetic coma from which she would never recover.

Attorneys for the county claim that Braillard purposefully withheld information about her condition.

But the ABC15 Investigators have obtained the full pre-trial deposition of Dr. Wilcox.

In hours of testimony, he discusses serious issues facing the county jail system regarding medical care. Many of those issues may have factored into Braillard's death.

Those problems include:  

- The jail system's backlog of medical requests that leaves inmates without care for weeks and sometimes months. "It's so long, you probably won't be seen during your incarceration," Dr. Wilcox said.

- Inadequate staffing and training that leads to inadequate care. Something that he calls the "biggest issue" facing the jails.

- Dr. Wilcox also said there's a culture that treats deaths within the jail and corresponding lawsuits as a business expense.

During his deposition, attorneys asked Dr. Wilcox, "Do you get the impression that CHS and county management would rather just pay the verdicts and the settlements  rather than just invest the money in projects and programs that would help?"

He responded, "That's the sense I came to believe after being there for the four years that I was there."

Attorneys then asked Dr. Wilcox, "So in other words, it was in your view, your perception, county management just considered that cost of doing business?"

He said, "Those judgments haven't cause them to change their business practices. So I guess that must be the way they rationalize it."

DEATHS COSTLY FOR TAXPAYERS

A judge has ruled that Jennifer Braillard can seek compensatory and punitive damages. That means a jury could decide to award Braillard millions of dollars.

That would add to a long list of jury verdicts and settlements paid out by Maricopa County related to jail death and injury cases.

The current bill for Arpaio's tenure exceeds $25 million, according to records obtained by the ABC15 Investigators.

However, that total does not include an increase in insurance costs for the county.

Cari Gerchick, a county spokeswoman, said that the deductible for Maricopa County has increased from $1 million to $5 million since Arpaio took office. However, she said the county would not directly correlate the increase to the cases against the Sheriff's Office.

HISTORY OF PROBLEMS

Maricopa County jails have repeatedly failed to correct deficiencies with their medical care, records show.

Dating back to 1995, the ABC15 Investigators found eight different warnings or reports that detail "unconstitutional" conditions inside the jails. The county has also had its accreditation suspended or put on probation multiple times.

Those include a Department of Justice investigation, a letter from county doctors and several outside audits that have called the jails "inhumane," "cruel," and "dangerous."

Dr. Wilcox said he was brought in to change the "culture" within the county but was only able to make limited improvements.

In his deposition, attorneys asked him for a reason why things didn't improved. Dr. Wilcox said the county wasn't willing to make necessary changes and didn't accept criticism.

"CHS and the county are incredibly vindictive about anybody who criticizes them," he said. "The reason you don't hear a lot of people objecting to what's going on is a fear of retribution."

 

 

 

 

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