A Hamilton County Jail inmate died early Friday morning while in custody at a local hospital, and his family said that, had a doctor not notified them, they wouldn't have known their loved one was dead until news reports came out.
Devonte Allison, 29, was booked into the jail on Dec. 16 after being charged with a variety of drug-related charges.
Then on Christmas Eve, he began having severe seizures caused by a pre-existing medical condition, according to a sheriff's office news release. He was taken by ambulance to a local hospital where he was listed in critical condition.
Hospital staff contacted Allison's family to let them know of his medical condition and prognosis, according to the news release.
Had it not been for the hospital notifying his family, they wouldn't have known Allison was in the hospital, his younger sister LaSha Rockymore told the Times Free Press.
"The only reason we knew it was going on is because the doctor from the hospital called asking for permission to perform a test," she said.
That call came at around 4 p.m. on Christmas Day.
"We were like, 'Oh, he's in ICU?' I mean, that was our first time hearing about anything," Rockymore said.
And up until news reports came out, the family didn't know a seizure is what landed Allison in the intensive care unit.
"We learned a lot from the news story," she said. "We're getting information as the public's getting information."
As for a pre-existing medical condition, Rockymore said her brother had sickle cell C trait and needed to stay hydrated, but he had never had any severe medical conditions or experienced a seizure.
Sickle cell C trait is not a disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Having it only means the person has inherited the sickle cell gene, and they typically lead normal lives.
"So when my mom got the call that he was brain dead on both sides," they were completely shocked, she said. "His friend was just incarcerated with him on [Dec. 21] and said [Allison] was just fine."
In the news release, a sheriff's office spokesperson said jail staff let Allison's family see him prior to his death.
But Rockymore said her parents had to ask for permission, and it wasn't until Dec. 26 that only the parents were allowed to see Allison. The rest of the family wasn't able to see him until a doctor called and said the family needed to be there the next day.
Family came from as far as Knoxville and Nashville.
"We were packed out in the waiting room," she said. "It was certainly about 50 people."
When they finally got to see him, Rockymore said Allison's body was swollen.
"His arms was really bloated on both sides," she said, and they don't know why.
"There's a lot of questions," she said.
But for now, the family is making funeral arrangements and weighing their next steps.
"We have yet to hear what happened inside the jail," Rockymore said. "We certainly want those documentations."
They've set up a GoFundMe to help with funeral costs.
Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston has requested Allison's death to be investigated and appointed the sheriff's office to conduct the investigation.
The Hamilton County Medical Examiner's Office will determine the official cause and manner of death.
"The Hamilton County Sheriff's Office would like to note inmates are routinely booked into the Hamilton County Jail with a variety of medical issues including some that pertain to serious, chronic and/or terminal diseases, etc.," a news release states.
Inmates are provided care by contractual medical personnel on site from Erlanger Medical Center, according to the news release.
"When inmates need medical care that cannot be provided at the jail by contract Erlanger staff, they are transported to a hospital to ensure proper, necessary care is administered," the news release states.
THE INITIAL ARREST
Allison was part of a large narcotics arrest after police found narcotics, stolen guns and drug paraphernalia in a home on Dec. 16.
Chattanooga police were called to the home in the 6300 block of Hansley Drive at around 1 a.m. for a reported domestic assault (Allison was not a suspect in that case).
Police had already suspected drugs were being sold out of the house, and they found more evidence of narcotic activity while investigating the domestic assault, according to an arrest report.
A search warrant was obtained, and police found large amounts of narcotics in every room and a firearm that was stolen from the Signal Mountain area.
The drugs found included 62 grams of methamphetamine, 40 grams of unidentified pills, three ecstasy pills, 1 gram of marijuana, multiple digital scales, glass pipes and baggies, the arrest report states.
Seven people, including Allison, who were at the home were arrested that day. Though, Rockymore said her brother wasn't at the home when police first arrived. He drove up after but was still arrested.
His arrest report doesn't specifically state what Allison was suspected of other than being at the home at the time of the search.
Contact staff writer Rosana Hughes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6327 with tips or story ideas. Follow her on Twitter @HughesRosana.