Four inmates at the New Orleans Justice Center were hospitalized after drug overdoses on Monday, another indicator of the serious contraband problems that continue to plague the city’s jail.
The medical emergencies were confirmed by attorneys for the MacArthur Justice Center, the non-profit that took the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office to court in 2013, forcing a sweeping consent decree to improve conditions for inmates.
“We were informed by the sheriff that there were four overdoses,” MacArthur attorney Emily Washington said. “It sounds like two happened in the morning, possibly on the court bus waiting for court that day. And two more happened in the jail on one of the tiers.”
Multiple sources said the four inmates were assigned to the same jail tier. All four were brought to court Monday morning in the same transport vehicle.
The sources said the inmates were revived by the antidote naloxone, which is used to resuscitate people who have overdosed on heroin or other opiates.
“It's our understanding that all four of those men were routed to University Medical Center,” Washington said.
Three of the inmates were treated and returned to the jail, Washington said, while the fourth inmate remained beyond Monday. His condition could not be determined Wednesday.
In a statement late Wednesday, the sheriff’s office did not update the medical conditions of the inmates, but did confirm the naloxone revivals.
“An investigation has been launched to determine how the inmates obtained the contraband,” spokesman Phillip Stelly wrote. “A search of the entire jail is underway.”
In a quote attributed to Sheriff Marlin Gusman, the statement continued, “In this case, our first priority was to protect the inmates. We did that thanks to the quick action of our security and medical staffs as well as EMS. We will continue our facility search and work to prevent contraband from entering our facilities."
Under a federal consent decree since 2013, the New Orleans Justice Center remains a deeply troubled jail, Washington said, especially when it comes to the smuggling of drugs and other contraband into the lock-up.
Monday's emergency comes nine months after another inmate, Colby Crawford, died of a cocaine overdose that was pinned to contraband supplied by another inmate.
“Obviously we are very concerned that contraband being brought into the jail and used is going to result in additional deaths or injuries to our clients,” Washington said.
Anthony Radosti, vice-president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, a non-profit watchdog group, also is seeking answers.
“How did it happen? Was there a contact with a civilian out there? That is what deputies that I’ve talked to believe right now,” Radosti said.
Radosti said contraband inside the city’s jail has been a problem for decades. Efforts in recent years to crack down on the problem have led to the arrests of dozens of inmates, as well as civilians helping from the outside and deputies caught smuggling from the inside.
“Drug contraband is a consistent problem. I've been in law enforcement 47 years and I've heard the same stories over and over again,” Radosti said.
As the MacArthur attorneys monitor the investigation into Monday’s drug overdoses, Washington said she remains gravely concerned for the inmates.
“It is the sheriff's job to keep the people that are being housed there safe. And that’s not happening,” she said.
The overdoses come on the heels of two other inmate deaths in the past month. The sheriff's office said 32-year-old Narada Mealy died due to an ulcer on Oct. 30, and 27-year-old Evan Sullivan died of “apparent natural causes” on Nov. 6. MacArthur attorneys have raised questions about the deaths and both remain under investigation.
“We have really serious concerns that instead of things improving that conditions are really dire and are getting worse,” Washington said. “Obviously four overdoses following on the heels of two deaths the other week is very, very sobering.”