Family questions inmate's death

Daniel Christian Melton.
Daniel Christian Melton.

Family members of an inmate found dead in his cell in November in East Baton Rouge Parish Prison are questioning the medical treatment he received behind bars.

The inmate, Daniel Christian Melton, 40, of Denham Springs, had complained of stomach pain and requested medical attention in the hours before he died of a ruptured stomach ulcer, according to Sheriff’s Office records provided after a public records request.

Melton told a fellow inmate he felt like his stomach “was going to explode” and had filled out — though did not submit — three medical request forms in the days leading up to his death, the records show.

Melton’s family members claim his death could have been averted and, in interviews this month, called into question the treatment he received while awaiting trial on weapon and drug charges.

“Instead of him just being left alone in a room to die for that many hours, maybe they could have done something,” said Melton’s wife, Brandie, who filed a grievance with the jail and said she may pursue a lawsuit. “I’m not going to let my husband die in vain.”

Officials with East Baton Rouge Parish Emergency Medical Services, which treats all parish inmates, refused to provide any details regarding Melton’s treatment, citing confidentiality laws and also declined to answer questions relating to medical information included in the Sheriff’s Office records.

“While the Coroner’s Office and Sheriff’s Office have released information about Mr. Melton’s cause of death, EMS is unable to elaborate on treatment rendered by our department because of state and federal HIPAA laws,” Mike Chustz, an EMS spokesman, said in a written statement referring to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. “We are providing Mr. Melton’s family with medical records to assist them in understanding his medical condition at the time of his death.”

Melton died from a perforated peptic ulcer, a tear in the stomach lining that allows gastric juices to leech into the abdominal cavity, according to preliminary autopsy results.

East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner Dr. Beau Clark said such ulcers are not imminently fatal and “can be corrected if caught in time.”

“I don’t think this gentleman developed a peptic ulcer the day he died,” Clark said in a telephone interview, adding it was not clear from his office’s work on the case what initially caused the ulcer. “He probably had a peptic ulcer for a while.”

Melton was booked Oct. 11 on charges of resisting arrest, violation of a firearm-free zone, possession of Schedule II drugs, possession of a firearm with a controlled dangerous substance and illegal carrying of a weapon, said Casey Rayborn Hicks, a Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman. He also had been serving a 90-day sentence for a previous criminal damage to property charge, Hicks said.

The October charges stemmed from an incident at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, in which Melton was found in a patient’s room with a 5-inch knife, .380-caliber handgun and a bottle of dextroamphetamine, his son’s medication for attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, according to an affidavit of probable cause.

“My husband had a problem with taking pills,” Brandie Melton said, adding she had been at the hospital with her daughter when Daniel Melton was arrested.

She said Daniel Melton, a U.S. Navy veteran who was known as “Chris,” had been taking methadone for many years and was dependent upon the drug.

Melton had been in jail a little more than three weeks when he was found unresponsive about 4:15 a.m. Nov. 3 in “M Wing,” a 20-cell unit that houses one inmate per cell, Sheriff’s Office records show. Deputy Blake Montz told Sgt. Sonya Harden, a homicide detective who investigated the death, that Melton had been placed on lockdown for mental health issues, the records show.

“He advised that inmate Melton was complaining of stomach pain during pill call,” Harden wrote in her report.

The Sheriff’s Office records show Melton refused his hall time Nov. 2, but the reason for refusal was not documented.

Once the deputies realized Melton was unresponsive, the on-site nursing staff responded immediately and began CPR, the records show, but Melton was already dead.

Deputies received conflicting statements from nearby inmates as to whether an inmate had given Melton some green-and-white pills the night before he was found dead, the records show. The inmate, Michael Johnson, told detectives he gave Melton the pills around 8 p.m. Nov. 2, the records show.

Johnson said Melton began “acting weird” and told him he was high, according to the records. Another inmate, Daniel Pourciau, had been prescribed a green-and-white “50 mg pill that is similar to Benadryl,” the records show, but when asked by a detective, Pourciau denied giving any pills to Melton.

In an interview shortly after Melton’s body was found, Pourciau told investigators Melton had been “asking for pills and was telling other inmates his stomach hurts,” the records say.

“He told Daniel he felt as if his stomach was going to explode,” detective Marshall Caillouet said in a report.

Pourciau said Melton had not eaten in a few days, Caillouet’s report says.

“Melton told Deputy Sharper he felt like he was going to die,” the report adds.

Hicks, the Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman, said in an email that prison personnel report every inmate request to EMS, which “responds as they determine it is necessary.”

A jail log shows Melton reported stomach pain at 7:50 a.m. Nov. 2, Hicks said, and a nurse and a deputy were informed.

“The next request by Melton for medical care was at 18:53 (6:53 p.m.), also directly to EMS during pill call,” Hicks said in an email. “Rounds were conducted by deputies per protocol, and a follow-up request was not made to the deputy who was on the wing, nor did the deputy observe the inmate to be in any obvious distress during his rounds.”

Detectives found in Melton’s cell three medical request forms he had filled out but had not submitted, the records show. Melton noted he had been throwing up and requested medication for pain, chronic insomnia and acid reflux, the records show.

“He could have turned them in to any deputy during regular rounds or to any EMS nurse during their regular rounds, but apparently chose not to for whatever reason,” Hicks said in the email.

Hicks added that Melton had not filed any grievances for not receiving medical care.

Baton Rouge attorney Vincent J. DeSalvo said he is reviewing the case on behalf of the family.

“All I can say is the family has asked me to look into it to see if we can determine what happened,” he said. “We just want to know why (Melton died).”

Brandie Melton said she will remember her husband of eight years as “an awesome guy.” She said he was a talented poet, and she hopes to publish some of his work.

“We had very, very little, but everything that we had was a blessing to him,” she said. “I’m totally lost without him.”