“I’m so scared to go back there”
The medical neglect Shermare Tuck Riley experienced in the Durham County Jail was so intense that she is scared of what will happen if she has to go back.
During her two periods at the Durham County Jail, Shermare – who suffers from epilepsy and heart palpitations, among other conditions – was denied her medication and proper care for her seizures. This neglect continued during the week following Matthew McCain’s epilepsy-related death inside the Durham County Jail on January 19th 2016.
Shermare arrived at the Durham County Jail on August 12th, 2015, for a “quick dip” – a short stay of maximum three days meant to “teach you a lesson”, as Shermare says. Upon intake, Shermare told the jail staff of her medical conditions and prescriptions, which include Metoprolol, Gabapentin, and Effexor. The intake procedure includes a 23-hour lock-back that prevented her from taking her heart medication, Metoprolol, which she is required to take multiple times a day.
Despite their knowledge of her epilepsy, the jail decided to place Shermare in a cell by herself (cell 16) – just as they would later do with Matthew McCain – putting her at risk of suffering a seizure without help or medical attention.
Indeed, the next day, August 13th, Shermare felt the onset of a seizure. She told the C.O. she was not feeling well, and the C.O. called medical. There was no response for 20 minutes, and in the meantime, Shermare began having an epileptic attack. The other inmates in pod 5D witnessed the attack and later told Shermare, who has no memory of the time that elapsed during the episode, that the medical personnel merely observed her seizure without intervening.
Once in medical, Shermare was put on bedrest. She was not permitted to take showers or make phone calls. Her family and friends did not know where she was or what had happened.
On January 20th 2016, Shermare was put back in the Durham County Jail. Again, intake procedure prevented her from receiving her medication for a full day (“even longer than the last time”, she notes). This caused Shermare to feel dizzy, light-headed, and panicky: “my heart was going crazy”. Again, she was placed in a cell alone.
Suffering from the withdrawal from her medication and fearing more neglect of her epilepsy, Shermare fought for her right to proper medical care. On January 21st, she wrote a petition, signed by inmate witnesses to her seizures, demanding that she be released on probation so that she could receive proper medical attention.
Two days later, on January 23rd, Shermare felt the onset of another seizure and visited the nurse. The nurse informed the doctor that she was “faking it”, but after 15 minutes, once Shermare was clearly having an epileptic attack, the nurse called the doctor back to say that the “situation had drastically changed”.
She wrote a letter to Major Couch on January 24th detailing her situation as well. For her trial on January 25th, jail personnel had to transport her to court in a wheelchair because of her fragile condition.
Shermare had a court date today and was rightfully scared for her life. She knows people die in the jail, including the father of her first child. Even more alarming, the jail’s neglect of Matthew McCain’s epileptic attacks preceding his in-custody death is eerily similar to the treatment Shermare experienced.
Luckily, Shermare succeeded in having her charges (and probation) terminated this morning in court. But her case is a testament that the lives of those inside the Durham County jail continue to be in danger. The jail accused this loving mother, diagnosed with epilepsy, of “faking” a seizure only four days after Matthew McCain died in the jail from an untreated seizure. If an in-custody death does not lead to sufficient medical care inside the Durham County Jail, what will?