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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Inmate's death was avoidable, suit claims

By Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Big Island Bureau

The family of a Hawai'i woman prison inmate who died at a privately run prison on the Mainland in late 2005 has sued the state and the prison operator, alleging the facility failed to give their relative proper medical treatment in the month before she died.

Sarah Ah Mau, 43, had been complaining of severe abdominal pain and respiratory problems probably caused by a heart condition that caused fluid to accumulate in her lungs and resulted in a condition called passive congestion of the liver, said lawyer Michael Green, who is representing the family.

The suit alleges the prison showed "deliberate indifference" to Ah Mau's health problems, and Ah Mau filed an inmate grievance complaining about the poor care. Instead of helping her, prison officials "ignored her, insisted she was faking and threatened to put her in segregation if she continued to complain," according to the suit.

In November 2005, and in the weeks before Ah Mau died, the prison medical staff at the Otter Creek Correctional Center in Wheelwright, Ky., gave her antihistamine, cough syrup, castor oil, stool softener and antibiotics, but prison medical workers officials "continued to ignore the serious medical problems" that were causing Ah Mau's severe abdominal pain, according to the suit.

"The evidence is that Miss Ah Mau was having progressive heart failure with classical clinical signs that had been documented in the progress notes," Green said. "Our expert told me that they could have saved this woman."

Ah Mau was rushed to a local hospital on Dec. 29, 2005 after the prison medical staff was unable to get a blood pressure reading. She died at the Hazard Appalachian Regional Healthcare Hospital on Dec. 31.

The prison is owned by Corrections Corporation of America, which has been the subject of a number of inmate complaints alleging substandard medical care.

After Ah Mau died, Hawai'i prison officials sent a team to assess the medical treatment being given to inmates at Otter Creek. They never publicly released the results of that inquiry.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Darryl K. Ah Mau, who was Sarah Ah Mau's husband, and Sarah Ah Mau's father, Bartholomew Yadao, against the state of Hawai'i, Corrections Corporation of America and CCA nurse Iris Prater.

A spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Safety said the department has not received a copy of the lawsuit, and therefore could not comment on it.

CCA has said that its own review of Ah Mau's medical records found she received prompt and appropriate care.

Hawai'i pays more than $50 million a year to house more than 2,000 prison inmates in CCA prisons on the Mainland, including 175 women inmates at Otter Creek. The state has been housing convicted felons on the Mainland for more than 10 years because there is no room for them in Hawai'i prisons.

In 1993, Ah Mau was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison for beating her 19-month-old son to death in 1989.

Reach Kevin Dayton at kdayton@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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