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County jail withheld water, medication from mentally ill man

Dallas Morning News, September 9, 2004

A mentally ill inmate in the Dallas County jail nearly died in April after jailers cut off his drinking water for at least 13 days and denied him his psychiatric medications for 2 months, an internal investigation by the Sheriff's Department found.

James Monroe Mims, 53, was rushed to Parkland Memorial Hospital on April 9 after jail trusties found him on the floor of his cell, semiconscious, incoherent and soaked in his own waste, investigators wrote in their report.

At Parkland, emergency room nurses immediately saw that Mr. Mims was critically ill, suffering from severe dehydration and kidney failure. He had pressure sores on his shoulder, back and hip, indicating that he had been lying unaided for a long period of time, nurses told investigators.

Mr. Mims spent three months in Parkland, the first of those months in intensive care, before doctors pulled him through, family members said.
His mother, Cleo McGee of Dallas, said that before her son's recovery, a doctor advised her to consider hospice care because he was expected to die.

"I said, 'No, my son will live,'" Ms. McGee said.

Sgt. Don Peritz, spokesman for Sheriff Jim Bowles and the Sheriff's Department, said he could not comment because of a potential lawsuit by Mr. Mims' family.

The family's attorney, David Finn, described the case as an outrage and said he wants Dallas County District Attorney Bill Hill to convene a grand jury to investigate.

"If somebody denied water to a horse or a dog for two weeks, they'd be prosecuted," said Mr. Finn, who lost the 2002 Republican primary for district attorney to Mr. Hill. "This is sickening."

Mr. Hill's spokeswoman, Rachel Horton, said the district attorney's office would consider an investigation if Mr. Finn requested one. She said he apparently had not done so by Thursday.

Mr. Mims was charged in 1978 with 2 counts of attempted murder in the shooting of two Dallas police officers during a domestic standoff. He was declared mentally incompetent to stand trial, however, and has been in state mental hospitals since.

Dallas County judges and juries have repeatedly found him mentally ill and incompetent to stand trial. It was another such hearing that caused deputies to return him to Dallas from a state hospital in Terrell on Feb. 9.

From then until April 9, investigators wrote, Mr. Mims never received the anti-psychotic and anti-seizure medications that the mental hospital had sent with him.

The jail's psychiatric staff never saw him, despite what jail employees said were repeated referrals from jailers, investigators wrote.

For at least 13 days, Mr. Mims had no water because the jail had cut off water to his cell, and he was too mentally unstable to demand water, investigators wrote. It was the lack of water that nearly killed Mr. Mims, Parkland nurses told sheriff's investigators.

Jail employees said they cut off Mr. Mims' water because he had flooded his cell, but jail records did not support those claims, investigators wrote. At the time, the jail had no policy limiting how long time an inmate could go without water or even documenting how long the water had been cut off, they wrote.

The jail has since changed its water policies, investigators said.

Mr. Mims' hospitalization came less than two years after a head psychiatrist at the jail resigned amid disclosures that inmates were not getting their medications and were receiving little or no psychiatric monitoring.

County officials responded by approving a contract with the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston to provide medical and psychiatric care to jail inmates. Current medical and psychiatric staff members are employees of UTMB.

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