NEW ORLEANS — Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman has been sued by the family of 34-year-old Orleans Parish inmate Calvin Thomas (a.k.a Calvin Deal).
The family claims Thomas’ death was wrongful and a result of the prison allegedly being understaffed and inhabited by abusive employees.
The suit was filed in mid-November, almost a year to the day of Thomas’ Nov. 15, 2015, death.
Suffering from sickle-cell anemia and Hepatitis C, the family of Thomas claims that his mistreatment was compounded by the callous disregard by the prison toward the health of inmates, which they allege was fueled by Gusman.
Reportedly in the throes of sickle-cell related pain, Thomas purportedly was transported to University Medical Center where he died three days later. The suit alleges that medication that would have helped Thomas was denied to him.
Thomas was held at the Orleans Justice Center awaiting trial for charges related to robbery and drugs. At the time of his death, he had been waiting two months for a hearing. During that brief stay, family and friends of Thomas reported that he was "attacked and stabbed" by another inmate, "choked by a security guard" inside lockup and repeatedly ignored during bouts of illness.
Years of reported abuse had earlier resulted in a class-action suit filed against the prison. In 2009, the U.S. Department of Justice released a report citing Orleans Parish Prison as being infested with abusive guards and teeming with inmate neglect. Three years later, the sheriff was sued for another inmate’s death (Jones v. Gusman) that resulted in prisoner health care being addressed at the prison.
Adina Marx-Arpadi of the Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition told the Louisiana Record that another result of Jones v. Gusman was that the prison was put into “federal receivership” and was overseen by compliance director Gary Maynard, whose duties began this past October. The shift in responsibility, according to Marx-Arpadi, is very real.
“The sheriff may weigh in and give advice,” Marx-Arpadi told the Louisiana Record. “The compliance director answers only to the federal court. The sheriff has virtually no power, and is sheriff primarily in name only.”
Gusman further removed himself from an active role in the prison in 2014 when he agreed to an $83 million contract with Correct Care Solutions (CCS) that was part of reforms suggested by the U.S. Department of Justice report. CCS is a private company created to provide “medical and behavioral health services for….state hospitals… civil commitment centers, as well as local, state and federal correctional facilities.”
Marx-Arpadi said the CCS contract “was very controversial."
"It was very expensive and was negotiated behind closed doors, and the IG [inspector general] had some words about it," she said.
For its’ first year of operations, the CCS contract called for $15 million to provide “basic health care” to OPP, a total the New Orleans City Council found “obscenely expensive” given the skeletal staff CCS was imparting to the prison.
“We’re paying for nonexistent employees while (CCS) ramps up — phantom employees,” council president Stacy Head told the New Orleans Advocate in a 2014 hearing on the matter.
The current lawsuit claims that abuse still exists due to “the belief that (deputies) can violate the rights of persons ... with impunity, and that such conduct will not adversely affect their opportunities for promotion and other employment benefits." Correct Care Solutions is also named in the suit.
The Louisiana Record attempted to contact the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office for comment but did not receive a response.