Prison reform advocates praise $650,000 wrongful death judgment - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports, Social

Prison reform advocates praise $650,000 wrongful death judgment

The prisoner was a 39-year-old father of three who wound up dying in Orleans Parish Prison after getting into a shouting match with his wife. (FOX 8 Photo) The prisoner was a 39-year-old father of three who wound up dying in Orleans Parish Prison after getting into a shouting match with his wife. (FOX 8 Photo)
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) -

Prison reform advocates are hoping for change now that an appeals court has upheld a $650,000 judgment against the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office in a nine-year-old prison death case.

They say inmates like Kerry Washington didn't have to die in custody. He was a 39-year-old father of three who wound up dying in Orleans Parish Prison's notorious House of Detention after getting into a shouting match with his wife.

"I hope this is a catalyst for change," said Washington family attorney Jill Craft.

In 2006, Kerry Washington was arrested in Jefferson Parish, but transferred to Orleans Parish, where he was wanted on an outstanding marijuana possession, first-offense charge. But from the very beginning, things didn't go well for him in the House of Detention.

"In essence, you had the inmates running the prison," said Craft.

Court documents show Kerry Washington was involved in a number of scuffles upon his arrival at the House of Detention, was accused of throwing feces at a deputy, and then wound up on the eighth floor, which at the time was used for disciplinary cases.

The court found that Washington died after being put in a five-point restraint. At trial, Douglas Posey, a doctor for the Washington family, testified that the restraint, "across Mr. Washington's chest was sufficient enough to rupture the small blood vessels and to contuse and bruise the area." Posey also said Washington died a hypoxic, or an anoxic death, which is caused when a part of the body is deprived of oxygen.

"His injuries came from a lack of care and concern about him," said Norris Henderson with the Prison Reform Coalition.

Now, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld that ruling and awarded the family $650,000.

The court of appeals said that Washington's death was a result of negligence on the part of the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office. The office refused our request for an interview, but told us they were considering an appeal to the state Supreme Court. 

The jail no longer uses five-point restraints on inmates.

"This is supposed to be punitive, meaning 'don't do this anymore,'" said Henderson.

Prison reform advocates say Washington was one of about 40 people who have died in Orleans jail in the past 10 years, and it's not clear whether things are any better now that the new jail is open.

"The proof will be in the pudding, and I haven't tasted the pudding yet," said Henderson.

The family is still worried. Washington's wife Cheryl told us, "I'm happy I won the appeal, but I'm unhappy we still have another process to go through."

"At some point they have to accept responsibility for this family," said Craft.

"This incident changed my life dramatically, and financially," Cheryl Washington said. "My daughter will graduate from college soon, and her father won't be there.'

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