Note: This story was updated on March 8 to correct the date of Abraham Jackson's death.
Two Chattanooga families have filed lawsuits against Hamilton County and the Hamilton County Sheriff's office, alleging medical negligence and poor living conditions caused the deaths of their loved ones detained at the Silverdale Detention Center.
The two lawsuits filed last week by Tullahoma, Tennessee-based attorney Derek Jordan, claim that poor living conditions, improper medical care and violence have persisted even after the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office took over the facility from CoreCivic, a private company based in Nashville, in December 2020.
"Despite Hamilton County's takeover of the jail, failure to provide proper medical care to inmates, inhuman living conditions and inmate-on-inmate violence have continued," the lawsuits say.
Neither have a specified monetary compensation listed.
CoreCivic, which ran the jail for more than 35 years, announced it would terminate its contract with Hamilton County on Dec. 30, 2020, due to the deterioration of the aging facility.
Marshon Grissom and Ashley Jackson filed a lawsuit on behalf of their father, Abraham Jackson, who was rushed to Erlanger hospital in September after being at Silverdale since March. Chrystal Brown, the mother of DaQuarrius Brown, filed another lawsuit. DaQuarrius Brown also died at Erlanger hospital last year, a result of what his mother called medical neglect at Silverdale.
The Sheriff's Office has said every person who walks through the facility's doors gets a health screen, and medical staff is available 24 hours a day. The Sheriff's Office declined to comment for this story and directed all inquiries to the county, whose representatives also declined to comment.
"Every inmate who enters our jail must be given a physical to identify any pre-existing medical issues and what medications are necessary to support the inmate's health needs," spokesman Matt Lea said in a January email in response to concerns expressed at a community forum on Silverdale conditions. "In addition to this, inmates who become sick or injured are reviewed by medical personnel as needed, and if sufficient medical care cannot be provided on-site, they will be transported to an outside medical facility as necessary."
Both lawsuits detail alleged neglect by medical staff at Silverdale. For Abraham Jackson, his cellmate, Marvin Davis, had to put in several requests to see a nurse in his attempts to get someone to care for Jackson, according to the lawsuit.
Also named as a defendant is the Alabama-based medical provider Quality Correctional Health Care, which is contracted to provide medical staffing and care at Silverdale for more than $3 million a year, according to its contract with the county.
Medical staff is to "provide primary health care services for all persons committed to the custody of the jail," according to the contract.
Silverdale officials and medical personnel did not fulfill their contractual obligations when they were "unwilling to provide him with any assistance because Mr. Jackson, being in a catatonic state, could not request the help himself," despite "Davis ... witnessing Mr. Jackson blackout on three separate occasions," according to the lawsuit.
Ashley Jackson remembered her father as "always smiling" and "always loud" with joy. She and her sister did not dismiss their father's trouble with the law but said that, despite his criminal record, he deserved better treatment.
"Everybody got their flaws, you know," Ashley Jackson said in an interview with the Chattanooga Times Free Press. "Nobody's perfect."
Ashley Jackson and Grissom remembered their father as the type of person who would give what little he had to anyone who needed it.
"If he had $4 and you needed $2, he would give you $2," Grissom said.
"He had never been to jail for nothing serious," Ashley Jackson said. "Even so, he still didn't deserve to be treated like that."
On March 28, 2022, shortly before 8:30 a.m., a Chattanooga police officer responded to the Dollar General Express at 728 Market St. after an employee reported an attempted robbery, according to a sworn affidavit from the department seeking Jackson's arrest.
The employee told officers she was stacking the shelves when she saw a man near the register, who then rushed over to her holding a knife and twice ordered her to get on the ground, according to the affidavit. He then "walked over to the right side of the business and took two 18 packs of Bud Light cans of beer, valued at $19.85 each before taxes," the affidavit said. "The suspect then exited the business with the beer."
Abraham Jackson was arrested on April 13, at the 100 block of Moccasin Bend Road, after he was identified by a second employee of the Dollar General from a photo lineup, according to the affidavit. He was charged with aggravated assault and aggravated kidnapping, according to the affidavit. Jackson's bond was set at $30,000 and, at a hearing on April 19, his case was bound over to the grand jury, according to court records.
Ashley Jackson and Grissom spoke to their father on a weekly basis and both said he was in good health when he was arrested.
"He still had his weight on him," Ashley Jackson said. "The last good time that we had a conversation, he was himself. He didn't sound like he was sick."
Grissom and Ashley Jackson remembered their father being eager to see his family again.
"He was talking about the grandchildren, you know, talking about how he can't wait to get out to see his grandchildren," Ashley Jackson said. "But then, weeks after that, we weren't getting calls, and I'm like, you know something ain't right."
For about a month, Abraham Jackson shared a cell with his former son-in-law, according to Grissom, who said her ex-husband would call her to say that her father was refusing to eat, a problem that persisted when his new cellmate, Marvin Davis, came in.
"He said he noticed that he stopped eating. He kept telling him he didn't want the food, and that's one thing he gonna do, he's gonna eat," Ashley Jackson said.
Abraham Jackson lost nearly 60 pounds within the first few months of being at Silverdale, according to the lawsuit.
"Mr. Jackson's cellmate, Marvin Davis, stated that Mr. Jackson had not eaten or drank anything for about a week prior to being admitted to Erlanger Hospital on Sept. 16, 2022," the lawsuit said.
On Sept. 16, Abraham Jackson was taken to Erlanger with a severe infection in his metabolic system that led to severe anemia, which prevented him getting better, "likely resulting from malnutrition," the lawsuit said.
Ashley Jackson and Grissom said they received an anonymous phone call from someone at Silverdale urging them to check on their father.
"We found out that he's in Erlanger, because we got a call saying 'they will take him to the hospital,'" Grissom said. "Still, nobody told us," referring to Silverdale officials or Erlanger staff.
It took Erlanger weeks to contact Ashley Jackson and Grissom to inform them about their father having been admitted, they said.
"When he came to the hospital, he was already septic," Ashley Jackson said. "If he was septic, then that's when you're supposed to contact the family. You know, we didn't get no information or anything for two weeks."
After more than a month in the hospital, Erlanger staff informed Abraham Jackson's family that he would "never regain normal bodily function and that his only chance for survival would be permanent placement of a tracheal tube and 24-hour care in a nursing home facility," according to the lawsuit.
"Erlanger staff believed that Mr. Jackson would likely require frequent hospitalization for recurring infections and amputation of his hand," the lawsuit said. "Realizing this would not be an acceptable quality of life for Mr. Jackson, his family made the difficult decision to transition to end of life care."
A nurse told the family that there was a possibility that he would have a different outcome, if he had "been admitted to the hospital sooner," the lawsuit said.
Grissom and Ashley Jackson say they feel hurt and guilt from losing their father.
"I feel guilty because I feel like we were forced to take him off the machine," Grissom said. "We didn't want him to live like that, and that made me hurt."
"I feel hurt, he died in a hospital eight days after his 51st birthday," Ashley Jackson said. "He was young, He didn't have to go like that."
Abraham Jackson died on Oct. 16, three days after he was released from Silverdale's custody.
Treated with disdain
The medical provider at Silverdale is also contracted to "establish a plan for the identification, treatment and monitoring" of incarcerated individuals who have specialized medical needs, such as "diabetes, hypertension, mental illness, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, asthma, seizures, etc.," according to Quality Correctional Health Care's contract with the county.
DaQuarrius "Jay" Brown was transferred to Silverdale in early February of last year from the Knox County Jail, where medical staff were providing him care for HIV and asthma.
Picked up for allegedly stealing candles and lotions from a Bath & Body Works in Knoxville, he was released to the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office on pending assault and burglary charges stemming from a Dec. 9, 2020, arrest in which Brown allegedly pepper-sprayed a Belk security guard who tried to stop Brown and two female accomplices during an alleged burglary.
As previously reported by the Times Free Press, Brown was in good health and managing HIV through medications. During his three-month stay at Silverdale, his health quickly deteriorated and he was taken to Erlanger in critical condition, where he ultimately died after being released on his own recognizance.
"Mr. Brown reported that the nurse looked at him like he was a 'disease' and remarked that she was overworked by 40 other inmates asking for Tylenol," the lawsuit said. "Mr. Brown felt that Silverdale's staff treated him with disdain because he was a Black, gay male with HIV."
His mother, Chrystal Brown, told the Times Free Press that while no monetary amount would ever replace her son, she hopes that the lawsuits bring awareness to the community.
"No amount of money is going to bring my son back, although it will help me grieve a little bit better to know justice for Jay was served," Chrystal Brown said by email. "I struggle every day with losing my son to something that could have been prevented (with) just a little help from someone with some compassion ... that was impossible for the employees at the Hamilton County Jail/ Silverdale."
Contact La Shawn Pagán at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6476.