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Reports: Paramedic recommended ER for inmate, but Pine Lawn jailers wouldn't release him

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When a paramedic from Northeast Fire Protection District went to the Pine Lawn jail last September to check out an inmate with abdominal pain and bleeding, he told police officers and jailers the inmate needed to go the emergency room, according to his report.

The paramedic wrote that a police officer had started paperwork for the release and the inmate had changed into his street clothes to get ready to board the ambulance. But then a police supervisor canceled the release. The inmate, Bernard Scott, 44, who was being held in lieu of $360 bail for traffic cases, was ordered to change back into his jumpsuit and led back to a holding cell.

Before leaving the station, the paramedic tried one more time.

“PD again advised by EMS that pt should be transferred to ED for further medical attention,” his report said. But the answer was still no.

Just 14 minutes later, the jail had to call another ambulance. Now Scott was unconscious, his muscles stiff. He was aggressive, difficult to pin down and his posture indicated possible brain damage, an EMT’s report said.

Police officers disclosed five minutes after the second ambulance arrived that they had found Scott hanging by his neck from a shoelace tied to his cell door.

The details of the response at the jail were revealed in public records obtained by the Post-Dispatch this week through a Sunshine Law request. The incident is another example of dysfunction in St. Louis County’s small jails and police departments. Unlike about 30 other states, Missouri has no jail standards or state authority to force improvements. And there is no tracking of jail suicides or suicide attempts.

Scott survived. In an interview on Thursday, Scott said he was in a coma for more than 11 days and hospitalized almost three weeks. He said he doesn’t remember trying to hang himself and doesn’t think he would do that.

“Why would I hang myself?” he asked. “I was in on traffic tickets.”

The incident in scandal-plagued Pine Lawn led to an internal review that went nowhere. Police officers and jail workers submitted statements that contradicted each other and the paramedic’s report. An examination of available public records by a Post-Dispatch reporter found no documented effort to sort out discrepancies.

The man in charge of the police and jail at the time was Anthony Gray, an attorney and longtime Pine Lawn official who was then the public safety director and is now the municipal prosecutor. At the time, Gray was in the high-profile role of helping represent the family of Michael Brown in the immediate aftermath of his shooting by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson — an incident that put a spotlight on problems in many municipal courts and police departments in St. Louis County.

Gray, who is also the lawyer for the Northeast Fire Protection District, did not return a phone call but wrote in an email that he had been out of town at the time of Scott’s attempted suicide. In an email, Gray said he delegated the investigation to a sergeant, and the investigative material was sent to city attorney Donnell Smith. “No further action was taken that I am aware of,” Gray wrote.

Gray’s choice to handle the investigation, Sgt. Willie Epps, was as close to the case as can be. According to the paramedic’s report, it was Epps who blocked the transport.

Several police officers and jailers submitted statements to Epps. But records show the stories often did not match:

• Pine Lawn Police Cpl. C.K. Harmon said the paramedic indicated there was “no substantial risk” and “no immediate life-threatening conditions.” However, the paramedic, Matthew Pay, said he found a 2-inch circular mass on Scott’s lower abdomen that was causing him pain. His report said he advised the police twice that Scott needed to go to the emergency room, but that Epps “stated pt does not need to be transferred and advised staff to discontinue paper work.”

• Corrections officer Angela Henderson wrote in a report that there was no bloodstain, although a photo in the file showed a bloodstain the size of a quarter. She also said it was the paramedic who “found no reason” to take Scott to the hospital.

• Epps wrote that he wasn’t even present. He said he left the station for 10 minutes while the paramedic was evaluating Scott and returned to find the ambulance had gone.

“What I wrote is what happened,” Epps said Thursday.

Asked about the discrepancy, Gray wrote, “Epps provided an explanation for everything he did or did not do. I don’t recall the specifics. But judgment calls were made and the wisdom behind them were given due deference.”

Scott said he remembered that the first ambulance driver “wanted to take me with him, but the guy wouldn’t let me leave.” After the ambulance left, he said, a police officer “told me he wasn’t going to let me out of jail unless I bonded out.”

He said he was led to a phone and tried to call a cousin and an aunt to get them to post bail. He said that’s the last thing he remembers.

The incident occurred in Pine Lawn, a north St. Louis County community whose mayor at the time, Sylvester Caldwell, was extorting bribes from a towing company, and whose police commander, Steven Blakeney, is facing charges of assaults and false arrest. The city is exploring shutting down its police department and handing policing over to the St. Louis County Police Department.

Pine Lawn was holding Scott on unpaid tickets from 2004 and 2005 for displaying an expired insurance card, driving with a suspended license, violating a stop sign and a red signal and failing to stop for an emergency vehicle. If he made bail in Pine Lawn, he almost certainly would have been transferred to Maplewood or Pagedale, where he also had arrest warrants.

Northeast Fire Chief Quinten Randolph said there have been at least six times in the past few years when municipal jails within his fire district refused to release prisoners after paramedics recommended taking them to a hospital. But he said the problem has gotten better after he has discussed it with area police officials. He said he could not immediately provide more specifics.

Last week, Scott violated his probation in an unrelated theft case; he is incarcerated at the St. Louis County Jail.

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