TEXAS VIEW: Ghastly things happen at the Collin County jail

THE POINT: The best way to make sure the county will take every reasonable step to protect life is a full accounting of what happened and why.

Recently, we learned of another death in the Collin County jail. This one, Dakota Lee Kent, was the unborn son of Lauren Kent, who was an inmate there in 2019. Lauren Kent’s pleas for medical attention were ignored until, eventually, she gave birth to Dakota over a toilet in her cell, she alleges in a lawsuit.

The Collin County jail has already lost seven employees because of the case of Marvin Scott III earlier this year. Scott was an inmate there who died while in custody. The Collin County medical examiner ruled it a homicide.

Now, two years after her incarceration, Kent is suing the county and a company called Wellpath that contracts with the jail to provide medical care.

Kent was arrested May 30, 2019, on a charge of credit card abuse, according to county records. The lawsuit says she was homeless and pregnant, and that she found a lost credit card in a parking lot and used it to buy food. But it’s what happened after her arrest that matters.

A nurse at the jail gave her a pregnancy test that confirmed she was pregnant on May 30, 2019, the suit says.

According to the lawsuit, Kent asked to see a doctor almost every day of her incarceration before she gave birth on July 5. That request was never granted. Kent was having abdominal pain and vaginal bleeding. She communicated with jailers by written message through a digital kiosk. Those messages, cited in the lawsuit, were desperate: “PLEASE IM BEGGING YOU,” she wrote. “I NEED A DOCTOR.”

On July 1, Kent started sending messages that she hadn’t felt her baby move in 24 hours and that she had passed a blood clot. But she was told that she would have to soak two pads with blood before she could see a doctor. County and Wellpath employees accused her of “crying wolf,” all according to the lawsuit.

As awful as this case is on its own merits, there are wider issues at play here. A CNN investigation into Wellpath examined complaints at nearly 120 locations in 32 states where the company’s written policy of cost reduction seemed to put inmates at risk.

Even if they subcontract for some services, Collin County jail is responsible for the safety and care of the people in its walls. This is not only the law, it’s common decency. Kent’s lawsuit puts the issue this way: “The question is whether these officials breached their constitutional duty to tend to the basic human needs of persons in their charge.”

Americans don’t surrender their right to be treated humanely when they commit a crime. Jails are meant to be a place of justice, not cruelty or indifference.

Representatives from the sheriff’s department declined an interview request, instead sending a two-sentence written statement that read: “Collin County contracts with a third-party medical provider for all medical services provided in the county jail. Collin County denies the allegation made in this lawsuit and will vigorously defend itself in this litigation.”

A Wellpath spokesperson replied to our request for comment last Tuesday but didn’t provide one by last Wednesday.

Collin County Judge Chris Hill did not respond to questions about the case or whether the county would continue to contract with Wellpath.

The cases of Marvin Scott III and Lauren Kent are very different. One involved a mentally unstable man and a drug charge. The other involved a homeless, pregnant woman on a fraud charge. But the common threads here are poor medical outcomes and poor transparency.

The public has a right to expect that the county will take every reasonable step to preserve and protect life. And the best way to make sure that expectation is being met is a full accounting of what happened and why.

Dallas Morning News