As soon as he was booked into the Pennington County Jail in January, James Jumping Eagle told jail staff he had an upcoming doctor's appointment and a possible surgery, he wrote in a federal lawsuit.
But he wasn't allowed to attend the appointment and developed an "obvious infection," he wrote. Treatment was delayed despite him, his lawyers and the U.S. Marshals Service telling the jail he needed treatment. By the time he was taken to a doctor — more than a month after he was arrested — he needed emergency surgery and had developed MRSA, a serious, contagious and difficult-to-treat infection.
Now, Jumping Eagle, a 43-year-old from Manderson, and a Rapid City lawyer are teaming up to sue Jail Commander Rob Yantis, an unnamed nurse and unnamed John Does.
"I think he was badly mistreated by having his serious and obvious medical needs ignored," lawyer James Leach said.
While Leach said Jumping Eagle is asking the jail to cover the cost of his injuries, he also wants the lawsuit to benefit all inmates.
"His hope in this case is that the case will lead to other prisoners' serious medical needs not being ignored," Leach said.
The Pennington County Sheriff's Office, which oversees the jail, declined to comment on the lawsuit or its policies regarding inmates who have scheduled doctor's appointments or have serious or contagious medical conditions.
Jumping Eagle was arrested Jan. 3 after his probation officer wrote that he was violating the rules of his federal supervised release by using alcohol and not showing up for appointments. He was serving 10 years of supervised release after spending more than eight years in federal prison after he pleaded guilty in 2011 to sexual abuse for having sex with a woman while she was asleep.
After he was arrested, Jumping Eagle wrote in his lawsuit, he told the jail he had a doctor's appointment and possible surgery scheduled for Jan. 7. "But they ignored me," he wrote.
The appointment was to check his left shoulder, which didn't heal properly after he had surgery to fix broken bones from being "seriously beaten" over the summer, he wrote. About a week into his jail stay, he began to feel "the screw in my left shoulder literally coming out of my shoulder." The wound was red, had puss coming out of it and was "obviously infected," he wrote.
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Jumping Eagle wrote that he asked jail staff "many times for treatment" but to no avail. He said his defense lawyers "saw the screw coming out of my left shoulder" and the infection so they told the U.S, Marshals Service about it. The U.S. Marshals Service then repeatedly told the jail that he needed treatment but it was still denied, he wrote.
The jail took him to a doctor on Feb. 20 and the doctor told sheriff deputies that he had MRSA and another kind of infection and needed emergency surgery, Jumping Eagle wrote. Daneta Wollmann, a federal magistrate judge, approved a furlough request for him that day after a defense lawyer wrote that the Rapid City Regional Hospital emergency room admitted him "for surgery on a screw protruding from his shoulder," court records show.
Jumping Eagle said he had surgery the next day. "I finally got emergency surgery for a condition that was allowed to become far more serious than it ever should have been," he wrote.
Leach said he had to wear a gown and gloves while visiting Jumping Eagle in the hospital. MRSA, spread through skin-to-skin contact, is a type of staph infection resistant to many antibiotics, according to the Centers for Disease Control. If left untreated, MRSA can turn into sepsis, a life-threatening infection throughout the body.
Once Jumping Eagle was returned to jail, Leach said, he was put in "basically solitary confinement," where he must spend 23 hours a day inside a single-person cell. He said he assumes Jumping Eagle was moved into the cell to protect other inmates from his MRSA, which is still being treated by an antibiotic drip going directly into his shoulder.
Leach said Jumping Eagle is doing better, but it's unclear what the long-term impact of the infection will be. He said his client has been "struggling emotionally" knowing he had a "life-threatening infection" that wasn't treated for a long time. Jumping Eagle wrote that the delay in treatment left him anxious and in physical pain.
After the surgery, Jumping Eagle's defense lawyer asked Wollmann to let him live in a group home outside of jail "due to his medical conditions." But Wollmann denied the request March 11, saying the U.S. Marshals Service has made sure his medical care can be administered inside the jail.
Jumping Eagle now awaits sentencing for violating his supervised released conditions, Leach said, and his punishment could range from time served to being sent back to prison.
Leach said while he's worked on other medical negligence cases, this is his first time representing an inmate at the Pennington County Jail. He said he's unsure if other inmates have had similar problems with accessing proper medical care.