Tangipahoa Parish Jail officials routinely withheld prescription medication, denied food and isolated for weeks and months at a time an inmate suffering from schizophrenia and other severe mental illnesses, according to a lawsuit filed Monday in federal district court.
The suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana and Advocacy Center on behalf of 33-year-old Dennis Bargher Jr. claims he descended into hallucinations and delirium and lost nearly half his body weight after being arrested in January 2009 on a count of having carnal knowledge of a 15-year-old girl.
Bargher was “psychotic, enfeebled and emaciated” by the time of his December 2011 transfer to Elayn Hunt Correctional Facility in St. Gabriel, where he is serving an eight-year sentence, the suit alleges.
The suit names Sheriff Daniel Edwards, Assistant Warden Capt. Joyce Jackson, nurse Sean Sweeney and doctor Reginald Goldsby as defendants and seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages for the alleged violations of Bargher’s constitutional and statutory rights.
Edwards said Monday he had “no knowledge of any inmate being isolated or not being fed. Those are not things we do and certainly nothing we condone.”
He declined to comment on the case specifically, however, saying he had not yet seen the complaint.
According to the lawsuit, “The abuse was deliberate: jail and parish officials not only ignored the clear recommendations of Bargher’s psychiatrists, but also disregarded a court order for treatment.”
After a sanity commission found Bargher incompetent to stand trial in October 2009, Judge Brenda Bedsole Ricks ordered that he immediately begin taking medications – by injection if necessary – while he waited for a bed at East Louisiana Mental Health System in Jackson, according to the suit.
“Sweeney and Goldsby deliberately disregarded the judge’s specific, unambiguous order,” the suit alleges. “Any medication Mr. Bargher received was given sporadically.”
The suit also claims jail staff failed to give Bargher his prescribed medications upon his return from a seven-month period of therapy in Jackson.
“The drugs prescribed to treat Mr. Bargher’s schizophrenia are strong psychiatric medications that not only were required for Mr. Bargher’s health, but also, because they were essential to his restoration to legal competence,” the suit alleges.
“They allowed him to understand reality from hallucination; they silenced the incessant voices in his head; they allowed him to sleep and reduced the intense paranoia and anxiety that dogged every moment of his life.”
The suit further alleges that Bargher was housed in a holding cell alone, 24 hours a day, for three months and allowed to leave the cell only once about every three days.
Bargher made numerous appeals to Assistant Warden Jackson for mental health treatment, but those requests went ignored, the lawsuit alleges.
Bargher’s written request for his medications was likewise denied, according to the lawsuit.