NEW ORLEANS — The sudden death of an Orleans Justice Center inmate a year ago is now being attributed to fentanyl, a potent form of synthetic heroin.
A lawsuit filed Tuesday against Sheriff Marlin Gusman and jail employees blames inadequate security and medical care for the death of 28-year-old Edward Patterson.
Filed on behalf of Patterson’s three children, the lawsuit claims Patterson initially overdosed on Nov. 26, but recovered after being taken to the hospital.
Five days later, Patterson was returned to the same tier where he smoked a fatal dose of fentanyl and collapsed on the floor of his jail cell.
“Someone introduced illegal drugs, specifically containing fentanyl, into the tier where Edward was held,” the suit alleges.
“Drugs and other contraband were routinely present on the tiers where Edward was housed during this time,” the suit states. “Inmates’ access to contraband was a long-standing problem at facilities under OPSO control. All defendants were aware of this problem but failed to correct it.”
The suit also claims that once Patterson overdosed, it took more than 30 minutes for deputies to call for emergency medical services.
“OJC staff was alerted by other inmates that Edward had collapsed and was unconscious on the floor of his cell,” the lawsuit states. “Rather than immediately notify emergency services, CPR (was) administered to Edward for 30 minutes. After these measures proved fruitless, emergency medical services were contacted.”
The lawsuit says Patterson was pronounced dead a short time after his arrival at University Medical Center.
Patterson had been locked up inside the jail for nearly three years, waiting to go to trial on an attempted murder charge.
His death left behind a trail of grief and unanswered questions.
“It's been hard,” his father, Edward Lee Wilson, said shortly after Patterson’s death. “For the last couple of days, it's been outrageous to know my son died in the jail.”
Wilson said the first sign of a problem came from an inmate who called and said Patterson was unresponsive on the floor of a jail cell floor for a length of time before he got help.
“That hurt me the most, knowing my son was laying on the floor for 45 minutes. It's sad,” Wilson said.
Stunned by the information, the family went to the jail for answers.
“We reached out to them,” Wilson said at the time. “Got the door slammed in my face, saying get an attorney. You want to talk, get an attorney.”
Attorney Eric Santana said that once he was hired to represent Patterson’s family, deeper problems quickly came to light.
“The family actually had a chance to visit Mr. Patterson while he was in ICU at the hospital and they noticed a medical band,” he said.
On that medical bracelet was the date of Nov. 29th, revealing that Patterson had been released from the same hospital two days before his final collapse.
Multiple sources who spoke to the family and WWL-TV said there has been rampant drug use in the area where Patterson was being held.
Contraband, especially illegal drugs, has been a persistent problem at the jail. Some inmates have overdosed, even died, despite the jail being under a federal consent decree to improve its dismal track record of medical and security problems.
A toxicology report by the Coroner’s Office determined that Patterson died of “acute fentanyl toxicity.”
Along with Sheriff Gusman, the lawsuit names as defendants former jail Compliance Director Gary Maynard, who resigned shortly after Patterson’s death, Wellpath LLC, the jail’s on-site medical services provider and unnamed deputies.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for Patterson’s three minor children based on violation of his Constitutional rights, wrongful death, gross negligence and failure to provide proper security and medical care.