Marc Crawford was arrested in Kentucky on May 2017 and booked. He was released from state custody just shy of one month later in a body bag. He died from lung cancer that he had previously been diagnosed. The state and the health contracting companies failed to give him basic treatment.
According to Dawn Crawford’s lawsuit, Marc’s widow, Correct Care Solutions LLC filed a complaint. They refused to provide Crawford with his chemotherapy treatment. Staff at Madison County Detention Center declined to issue Crawford prescriptions and took his pain-medication pill and gave Crawford psychoactive medication that didn’t properly treat the illness. Crawford was allegedly not receiving treatment by the MCDC, even though he vomited blood. Senior staff also reportedly refused to provide Crawford with more intensive medical care.
Crawford was charged with first-degree wanton harm and fled the accident scene. He was then transferred six days later from MCDC to Kentucky State Reformatory, where he was alleged to have received better medical treatment. According to the lawsuit, he was not denied chemotherapy and medications, nor the breathing treatment that a nurse prescribed.
On June 24, he died. In a October 8 ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals of the 6th Circuit stated that Marc had “effectively drowned” with three liters of fluid accumulating inside his lungs. If they’d administered their prescribed breathing therapies, the fluid would have been found by staff. His state hadn’t yet provided him with an oncologist. It took two days before the state notified his loved ones of his death. The Kentucky attorney general’s report later in the year found that MCDC violated state law when it responded to Dawn Crawford’s request to access public information regarding her husband’s state-care tenure.
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James Erwin (acting commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Corrections) is one of the defendants in the lawsuit. Erwin is accused of “promulgating and maintaining” KSR policies, and customs, which she claims violate Crawford’s Eight Amendment right for cruel and unusual punishment.
This part of the lawsuit has been dismissed. The 6th Circuit Court ruled Erwin couldn’t have violated Crawford’s constitutional rights. He didn’t have sufficient knowledge or involvement in the matter to hold him liable. Qualified immunity protects Erwin, which is a legal doctrine giving certain officials protection against civil lawsuits.
Dawn’s complaint makes the following allegations: Erwin accepted Marc’s transfer to KSR. Circuit Judge John Nalbandian stated that Erwin was made aware of Marc’s health conditions through this process. Marc was aware that Correct Care had poor policies and procedures. Erwin recognized this. These risks were not addressed by Erwin. Marc was injured by a combination of all these inactions and actions. It’s that simple. This is the only activity Dawn’s amended complaint attributes Erwin to, even if it was charitably understood. It cannot endure, stated the 6th Circuit.
Clark Neily is senior vice president of legal studies at Cato Institute. He says the ruling was not particularly egregious and that supervisory liability could be a complicated theory. “That said, it strikes me as quite remarkable that a system that will entrust juries with the decision whether to take a human life in death penalty cases—often on the basis of complicated scientific evidence—is so unremittingly distrustful of juries when it comes to their ability to decide much lower-stakes cases like whether a particular government official committed misconduct and if so whether they should be financially liable to the person they harmed.”
Recently, Correct Care has received a lot more scrutiny than usual. There have been several similar stories to Crawford’s. After being refused a chemotherapy drug, an Indiana inmate sued Correct Care in 2018. He had been given ibuprofen instead.
This lawsuit is one of many that have been filed over the years. CNN published a CNN story in 2019 describing a series of preventable deaths that Correct Care may have been responsible. Judge Nalbandian says that only a portion of cases were examined by doctors, who concluded that proper care could have saved about half of all the deaths. However, the report was released two years after Crawford’s passing. Judge Nalbandian concludes that Erwin “cannot have learned any relevant information” from it.
While the court ruling is not applicable to the government officials or health care organizations that were directly responsible for Crawford’s death and burial, the widow might still receive some form of compensation. The state’s response to the many years of allegations at Correct Care remains to see if it will.