“I Thought He Was Safe, That Was a Mistake”
(April 15, 2014) When Bill O’Quin called the police to warn them that his 41-year-old paranoid schizophrenic son, David, was wandering the streets one night in February 2013, he had no idea the arrest would ultimately lead to David’s death in a Louisiana prison.
Yet “thirteen days later David Jackson O’Quin lay lifeless on a jail cell floor after being shackled to a restraint chair for nearly 170 hours during 10 days of often violent behavior,” reports the Advocate (“Dad hopes suit over mentally ill son’s death in jail will spur change,” April 14).
An artist, David O’Quin was fluent in Spanish and graduated from the University of Texas with a degree in studio art. Shortly thereafter, he moved to Los Angeles to further his art studies at UCLA.
What originally appeared to be the quirky behavior of an artist became more alarming when David moved to the west coast. “Helicopters and birds followed David around Los Angeles,” Bill O’Quin tells the Advocate. “Intelligence officials implanted listening devices in his brain . . . He often stripped naked in public.”
When he landed in the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison on that February night, David was suffering from serious psychosis, according to a medical report from a prison nurse. “Recognizing he was mentally unstable, intake workers kept him apart from the general population of inmates.”
On his sixth day in jail, “David spent 24 hours strapped to his chair, screaming for at least six of those hours, and he refused to eat.” Days later, David was “shot with a stun gun and had a spit mask pulled over his face.” Much of David’s last few days were spent restrained to the chair.
On his last night alive in prison, after being released from the chair but too weak to move, “David ate dinner lying on a mat on the floor of his jail cell . . . At about 5 a.m. a deputy yelled for him, but he didn’t’ budge. . . At 7 a.m. a guard poked the motionless man through the bars with a broom.”
David was dead.
Officials with the Emergency Medical Services declined to comment to the Advocate about the causes surrounding David’s death. The autopsy report indicates that David died after blood clots in his legs dislodged and settled in his lungs.
Bill is suing the prison to facilitate changes in how jails and prisons treat people with mental illness.
While it is unknown whether significant efforts were made to treat David’s psychosis during his incarceration, our study, “The Treatment of Persons with Mental Illness in Prisons and Jails,” found that Louisiana is one of 13 states where involuntary treatment is significantly more difficult because it requires a court order or appointment of a guardian by the court.
David O’Quin is one more casualty in our nation’s failure to adequately provide treatment for inmates with serious mental illness who are in the throes of psychosis. As our report notes, the consequences of failing to treat mentally ill inmates are “usually harmful and sometimes tragic.”
In this case, the consequences were tragic.
Read or download “The Treatment of Persons with Mental Illness in Prisons and Jails.”
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