Orleans Parish Prison inmate dies of cancer

A 50-year-old inmate at the long-embattled Orleans Parish Prison died of cancer at the hospital late Tuesday, just before midnight.

John C. Alexcee, held on a $3 million bond while awaiting trial for a two-decade-old rape, was diagnosed with metastatic cancer during his incarceration, according to the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office.

He was the 41st Orleans Parish Prison inmate to die since 2006.

The Sheriff’s Office released a statement Wednesday that said Alexcee had received extensive medical treatment at the Interim LSU Public Hospital. He died comfortably and with family present, the Sheriff’s Office said. An autopsy will be performed, despite his prior diagnosis.

Alexcee was charged with aggravated rape and aggravated kidnapping in 2010, when New Orleans police and prosecutors worked to clear a backlog of 400 rape kits. Alexcee’s DNA allegedly matched that left during a 1993 abduction and rape.

He was accused of firing a bullet into a woman’s car window in July 1993, abducting her and driving her around the city while repeatedly raping her.

He had not been convicted.

“While we are frustrated when one of our inmates passes away, there are instances — such as when dealing with terminal cancer — where medical situations are out of our control,” Dr. Samuel Gore, the sheriff’s medical director, wrote in the statement. “The death of an inmate is an unfortunate reality that all jails face.”

The Sheriff’s Office, for years beset by accusations of mismanagement and shoddy medical services, pointed out that the city jail is in line with national averages for inmate deaths.

Gore wrote that the jail, based on accepted national standards, should expect an average of five inmate deaths per year. Other metropolitan areas, including Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, Houston and Memphis, have higher inmate mortality rates than New Orleans, the sheriff wrote.

But civil rights advocates have for years criticized the jail for a long list of problems, including rapes, deaths, brutality, escapes, and insufficient medical and mental health treatment.

In 2009, the Department of Justice issued a letter chronicling the troubles with the jail’s health and security systems.

Then last year, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a lawsuit that has led to a looming consent decree and accusations by national experts that Orleans Parish Prison is one of the worst jails in America.

Medical and mental health services are among the chief complaints in the lawsuit.

Alexcee was among the Center’s clients, director Katie Schwartzmann said.

Schwartzmann stopped short of saying that she believed Alexcee might have been saved with better medical treatment.

“I’ll say that we’re concerned about the treatment that he received in the jail,” she said.

Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman said in his statement that every inmate is evaluated by the jail’s medical staff as one of the first steps in the booking process, in an effort to immediately identify medical or mental health problems.

“The Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office often houses the sickest and most underserved members of our community,” Gusman wrote in a statement Wednesday.

“We encounter individuals daily with untreated or under-treated medical conditions, as well as an increasing number of untreated, undiagnosed, or under-treated mental health disorders.”

Gusman’s office also routinely comes under fire for security issues, with critics pointing to the jail’s rampant number of inmate escapes.

One such escapee has been on the lam for three days.

Leroy Smith, 29, serving a sentence for cocaine possession and burglary, was part of the sheriff’s transitional work program, in which inmates are allowed out of jail to work at various city establishments, then returned to the prison once their shift is over.

Smith reported to his post at a local restaurant Sunday evening, but was reported missing around 12:30 a.m. Monday. He has not been seen since.