Exactly one year after he was found dead on the floor of his Tulsa jail cell, Thomas Pratt was back in jail Thursday, fearing this time he would not survive.
He was jailed Thursday for failure to pay child support. However, Pratt, 36, couldn’t work to pay his child support because he’d been ruled incapacitated due to a brain injury he suffered the last time he was in Tulsa’s jail.
Special Tulsa District Judge Tammy Bruce, who had ordered Pratt jailed Thursday, reversed that order after Pratt’s attorney informed her he’d been ruled incapacitated and had a guardian. A review hearing was scheduled for Friday in Pratt’s case, in which he owes more than $20,000 in back child support for care of his 4-year-old daughter.
“What happened to him in jail initially is why we were so concerned when this happened,” said Oleg Roytman, Pratt’s attorney. “Even one day in jail and him not being able to get his medications could be catastrophic for him.”
Roytman said action in the case had been delayed numerous times in the past year. An attorney who represented Pratt’s ex-wife agreed Pratt didn’t have to attend hearings due to his condition.
However Pratt’s ex-wife dismissed her attorney and Bruce was unaware during a hearing Thursday that Pratt had a guardian, Roytman said.
What exactly happened in the jail last year to Pratt, who had a mental illness and a seizure disorder at the time of his arrest, is unclear. He was ordered to serve six months in jail on Dec. 11, 2015 due to failure to pay back child support.
Some reports from the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office stated Pratt, who was on suicide watch, had been banging his head against a jail cell wall. Other reports stated he fell and hit his head, medical records show.
Pratt ended up with a large gash in his forehead and signs of a head injury that went untreated for days, records show. On Dec. 16, 2015, he went into cardiac arrest for about six minutes before paramedics arrived, leaving him with permanent damage from a hypoxic brain injury.
An EMSA report lists his “primary symptom” when paramedics arrived as “death.”
Deputies told EMSA paramedics that Pratt “hit his head 4 days ago, and has been non-verbal and lethargic ever since.”
“Pt has a large hematoma to his forehead, that staff reports ‘Is from his fall 4 days ago.’” EMSA’s report states. “Staff states ‘Pt was seen by our doctor here, and they said he was fine.’”
However hospital reports state: “EMS reports that pt is an inmate and had been placed on suicide watch after hitting his head repeatedly against a wall 2 days ago.”
Another record from the hospital states he was “found down possibly having been beaten.”
A nurse told Pratt’s mother nobody in the ICU expected him to survive.
“We’re doing everything we can to cheat death,” Pratt’s mother, Faye Strain, recalled the nurse saying.
“He was on dialysis and a ventilator, he had wires and tubes going in each side and he was black and blue from head to toe,” Strain said in an interview Thursday, wiping tears away.
Pratt spent three weeks in intensive care and another week in a rehabilitation unit before being sent home to live with his mother in Claremore. Strain said her son wasn’t the same person after his near-death experience in the jail.
Pratt once lived on his own, worked and helped raise his son, now 16. Since his injury in the jail, Pratt has trouble putting his words together, processing information, has blackouts and seizures, and can’t work.
“Part of my life has been taken from me,” Pratt said Thursday after his release, pausing as he said each word. He said he has no memory of what happened to him a year ago in jail but said when he was locked up Thursday, “I started getting nervous because of what happened last time.”
At the hearing Friday, Bruce was expected to review the status of Pratt’s case.
“There are some exceptions to paying child support, one of which is being incapacitated and being unable to work,” Roytman said.
Strain said she fears her son would not survive if he were jailed again.
During a meeting Thursday afternoon in the Smolen, Smolen & Roytman law firm after Pratt was released, Strain and Pratt met with attorney Dan Smolen to discuss the case. Strain brought a bag of medications that Pratt had been prescribed but was unable to take in jail.
“I was going to break in and get them to him,” Smolen joked.
Prisoners on prescriptions for physical and mental illnesses often miss medication for days after being arrested and then are switched by the jail’s healthcare provider to lower cost alternatives that may not be as effective.
The law firm has numerous federal civil rights lawsuits pending against the sheriff’s office and its former medical providers alleging inmates died or were seriously injured due to a lack of medical care in the jail.
The sheriff’s office has said in legal filings that it provides appropriate health care required by state law and the Constitution. Some inmates enter the jail with complex medical and mental health issues and the jail’s medical provider does the best that it can to respond, TCSO officials have said.
The company in charge of jail medical care when Pratt nearly died, Armor Correctional Health Services Inc., lost the $5 million contract earlier this year. County officials did not say what prompted the change but several high-profile cases of prisoner deaths and injuries likely contributed to the switch.
A new health-care provider, Turn Key Medical, took over the contract Dec. 1.
One pending civil rights suit involves a mentally ill inmate, Elliott Williams, who sustained a broken neck in the jail and laid on the floor without medical attention, food or water for days before he died. Smolen said Williams’ case bears some resemblance to Pratt’s situation, in that records show he sustained a head injury but had no treatment for it before he was found without a pulse.
The Williams suit and three others alleging violation of prisoners’ civil rights are set to go to trial beginning in February. The firm has filed a tort claim in Pratt’s case, which preserves his ability to sue the sheriff’s office over his injuries.