NEW ORLEANS -- A lawsuit has been filed on the behalf of a man who is living in a nursing home with brain damage after a beating at Orleans Parish Prison.
The Advocacy Center and civil rights attorney Stephen Haedicke filed a lawsuit on behalf of Terry Smith, a homeless man with a history of mental illness who was the subject of an Eyewitness Investigates piece on violence inside OPP.
Haedicke said he is "seeking damages for the prison’s blatant failure to protect Mr. Smith from another inmate who was known to attack both inmates and guards at the jail."
"(Smith) suffers from seizures and is unable to communicate, walk, or care for himself in any way. It is likely that he will need therapy, medication and 24-hour care for the rest of his life," Haedicke said.
In June 26, 2012, Smith was struck in the face by a single punch inside the jail by Edwin Lee. Smith fell and hit his head on a metal bench suffering a laceration and brain swelling. Smith was put on a ventilator and was not expected to survive, according to the incident report from OPP.
“The conditions at Orleans Parish Prison are scandalous and must change,” Haedicke said. “Our client in this case, Mr. Smith, nearly died because of those conditions. He was in there for nothing but petty offenses, and now he is likely to need 24-hour care for the rest of his life. I hope that with this lawsuit we can help him to get the kind of care he needs and deserves.”
According to court records and documents, Edwin Lee had a history of abuse. In August 2011, Lee hit a deputy and threatened to kill him. A month later, he attacked an inmate. Two months later, he punched another deputy. Sent to a mental hospital, on his first day there, Lee stabbed another patient with a shank. Eventually he was sent back to OPP.
Days before he allegedly punched Smith, Lee again beat up another inmate, knocking two of his teeth out, according to an incident report.
“O.P.P. is notoriously violent, understaffed and overcrowded. Conditions are terrible for any inmate; for a person with a mental illness, it is truly inhumane,” said attorney Miranda Tait. “For Terry Smith and others with schizophrenia, jails have become de facto mental institutions. O.P.P. is the worst place for such a vulnerable population to be.”