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Xavius Scullark-Johnson, Prisoner, Dies After He's Denied Health Care

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A prisoner was left in his urine-soaked cell to die after a nurse turned away an ambulance, even though he had suffered several seizures, according to documents obtained by the Star Tribune.

Xavius Scullark-Johnson, 27, was three months away from getting out of prison when he died in June 2010. He was serving a five-month sentence for a probation violation stemming from a second-degree assault conviction. Now his mother, Olivia Scullark, is suing two nurses employed by the Minnesota Department of Corrections at the Rush City prison, as well as other medical staff and corrections officers, according to the Pioneer Press.

Scullark told The Huffington Post she filed the lawsuit because that's what her son, who suffered from schizophrenia and a seizure disorder, told her to do if he didn't make it out of the prison alive.

"My son has written me a lot of letters," Scullark said. "His seizures got worse there. He said if he doesn't get out of there, I should sue them."

The Minnesota DOC declined to comment on Scullark-Johnson's death, citing the pending litigation. But in an email to HuffPost, DOC spokesperson Sarah Berg said, "the department must balance the needs of our offender population with the limited resources appropriated by the legislature."

Scullark said her son deserved to be treated much better.

"You can't even leave an animal like that," she said. "I'm pretty angry, but I'm glad that some justice is gonna come."

According to DOC documents and ambulance reports obtained by the Tribune, Scullark-Johnson was found "soaked in urine on the floor of his cell" on the night of June 28, 2010. "He was coiled in a fetal position and in an altered state of consciousness that suggested he had suffered a seizure," according to notes taken by nurse Linda Andrews.

The nurse left the prison after her shift ended without contacting the on-call doctor, instead telling corrections officers to keep an eye on him, according to the documents.

When a corrections officer later phoned the doctor after Scullark-Johnson's condition seemed to worsen, the doctor advised the officer to call 911, documents said. But when an ambulance showed up to take Scullark-Johnson to a hospital, the nurse on duty, Denise Garin, turned it away. Scullark-Johnson was pronounced dead hours later.

The Tribune notes that ambulance runs are "strictly monitored" in "an effort to cut costs" by Corizon Inc., the for-profit company contracted by the DOC to care for its prisoners.

Berg said DOC has a contract with a private health care company "to help manage care in a cost-efficient manner while still complying with community standards of care.

"Like any healthcare consumer may experience, this includes formularies, utilization review and managed care," Berg said. "It should be noted that the DOC does not train staff to consider costs when responding to life-threatening emergencies."

David Fathi, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union National Prison Project, told HuffPost that the government is constitutionally required to protect prisoners' health. “Prison officials have a duty under the Constitution to provide prisoners with adequate medical care," Fathi said in an email. "When they violate that duty, the results can be tragic.”

Fathi insisted that responsibility remains in the hands of the government, even when a private company is put in charge of caring for inmates.

"Prison officials can hire private contractors to provide health care, but the legal responsibility for ensuring that prisoners receive adequate care always lies with the state," he said.

Companies looking out for their bottom lines have no business providing services to prisoners, according to Fathi.

"We believe that incarceration is a uniquely governmental function that should never be contracted out to private, for-profit corporations," Fathi said. "When you combine the profit motive with limited oversight and an unpopular, politically powerless group like prisoners, it’s a recipe for bad outcomes.”