Private Prison Death Fallout: Failed Audits, Firings and a Vow from Gov. Brad Little 

Little told relatives of the dead inmate that Idaho would "do everything in its power to make sure something like this doesn't happen again."

There is no headstone at Space No. 3 in the Wasatch Lawn section of Fielding Memorial Park Cemetery in Idaho Falls. In fact, the only indication that anyone is buried beneath the large rectangle of dirt is a tiny, laminated strip of paper that reads, "Kim Sargent Taylor, August 16, 1962-January 6, 2019."

There have been few, if any, visitors to the gravesite of the eastern Idaho man who died mysteriously at the Eagle Pass Correctional Facility, a private prison contracted to house nearly 550 Idaho inmates. That said, Taylor's death is getting plenty of attention from the highest levels of Idaho government. A so-called Serious Incident Review concluded that there was "a deficit in critical thinking skills" at the South Texas private prison; two separate audits at the prison facility, which is owned by GEO Group revealed failing grades in several healthcare-related categories; at least two healthcare professionals have lost their jobs at the private prison since Taylor's death; and Idaho Governor Brad Little met personally with Taylor's surviving relatives, assuring them that Idaho would "do everything in its power to make sure something like this doesn't happen again."

"Yes, Governor Little met with Mr. Taylor's family to share his condolences and listen to their concerns," said Marissa Morrison, Little's press secretary. She added that Jared Larsen, the Governor's Policy Advisor for Public Safety and Criminal Justice, sat in on the April 12 meeting.

Terri Greenwood, Taylor's sister, told Boise Weekly that while the family appreciated the meeting, they weren't convinced that it was entirely heartfelt.

"It was simply a public relations move," she said. "It was good for them to invite us to come meet with them, but it was just a PR move. We're looking at our options."

An option that the family took was to contact Ed Budge, a nationally recognized attorney who specializes in representing families of victims of jail abuse, neglect or death in prison.

"The public needs to know about Kim Taylor," said Budge from his Seattle-based firm Budge & Heipt, LLC. "The public needs to know that a loved one can be confined to prison but come out in a body bag. The family wants to know why, but it's not like you can just go in and start asking questions at the prison. It's particularly difficult when it's a private prison."

What We Know (and Don't Know)

An official incident report from the Maverick County, Texas, Sheriff's Office concluded on Jan. 6 that Taylor, 56, had "died of natural causes." But there was nothing natural about the week-long series of events that led up to Taylor's death, beginning Dec. 31, when Taylor complained of a sore throat. His fever escalated to 101.3 degrees within a day, and complaints of dizziness and filled lungs followed over the next few days. Just past midnight on Jan. 6, Taylor's cellmates told prison officers that he was "pale, incoherent" and unable to stand. But when a nurse came to the cell, inmates later told investigators, "She didn't know what to do."

click to enlarge Eagle Pass Correctional Facility - SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS NEWS
  • San Antonio Express News
  • Eagle Pass Correctional Facility

Subsequent findings in a Serious Incident Review, ordered by the Idaho Department of Correction, included the fact that Taylor was never referred to a physician in spite of his rapidly deteriorating medical condition, that there was a "deficit in critical thinking skills" among the health care professionals at the private prison, and that the nurse who did end up responding to the crisis was "inexperienced." The SIR added that "unless [the nurse] can be given some immediate additional training and education, she should be removed from her position." Ultimately, the SIR concluded "medical response is where the problem lies."

After Taylor's death, Eagle Pass Warden Waymon Barry, pointing to Taylor's cause of death as "natural causes," never ordered an autopsy. In short order, Taylor's body was embalmed, shipped back to Idaho and buried in the snow-covered Fielding Memorial Park Cemetery a few days later.

"The result of the Serious Incident Review uncovered some things that we found to be troubling, and warranted a more thorough audit of Eagle Pass," said IDOC Director Josh Tewalt. "Our primary concern is to get to the bottom of whether that was a confluence of events that led to a tragic outcome, or whether it was representative of something systemic that could potentially put our other inmates in danger who are housed at that facility."

Tewalt said a team of Idaho-based auditors, representatives from IDOC's management services division and a representative from the department's medical provider Corizon Correctional Healthcare, flew to Texas to launch a full review of health care services at the Eagle Pass private prison. One audit was conducted on Jan. 25 and a second review was conducted on Feb. 27. The results were not good.

The Healthcare Service Audits

On Jan. 25, Idaho auditors began reviewing four categories of health care-related procedures at the Eagle Pass prison: Infection Control, Medication Administration Records, Nonemergency Healthcare Services and Pharmaceutical Operations. In each instance, Eagle Pass failed to meet the threshold of expectations.

In the category of Infection Control, auditors found that the Eagle Pass facility did not have an infection control program in place, and personal protective equipment was not available in all medical areas.

In the category of Medical Administration Records, auditors found that, in the majority of medical records reviewed, either scheduled medications were not administered as ordered or there was no explanation for why medication was not given.

In the category of Nonemergency Healthcare Services, auditors discovered instances where sick inmates were not triaged within 24 hours of illnesses or referrals weren't made to health care providers after inmates had been seen more than two times for the same concern.

In the category of Pharmaceutical Operations, auditors found instances of medication cards that had been blacked out or relabeled for other use.

When IDOC auditors returned to Eagle Pass on Feb. 27, they found some improvement in the categories of Infection Control and Nonemergency Healthcare Services, but also discovered some new concerns, this time in the categories of Continuity of Care and Oral Care.

In the category of Continuity of Care, auditors found instances of test results not appearing in inmates' medical records within three weeks of appointments, and either little or no documentation of inmates being evaluated by an ER physician or during an offsite medical appointment.

In the category of Oral Care, auditors found instances of dental care not being provided within 28 days of an offender's request for treatment.

In a formal response to the audits, Barry penned a letter to IDOC, promising, "It is our intent to meet or exceed the contractual requirements with regards to inmate health care services. We value the Idaho Department of Correction's trust in allowing us to support your important law enforcement mission."

When Boise Weekly posed a series of questions regarding the audits to GEO Group, which owns Eagle Pass private prison, a GEO Group spokesperson said, "As a service provider, we are committed to working with the State of Idaho and all of our state government partners to continuously assess our processes, procedures, and training [in] an effort to improve the delivery of services and operational efficiency as needed."

Personnel Dismissed

In his letter to IDOC responding to the Jan. 25 and Feb. 27 audits, Barry made repeated references to new expectations of the prison's Health Service Administrator and Director of Nursing. But he would not mention those health care officials by name.

A source with direct knowledge of the Eagle Pass facility and the events that followed Taylor's death told Boise Weekly that at least two high-profile health care professionals, a physician and a nurse, were dismissed from the GEO-owned prison. When BW asked GEO officials to confirm the dismissals, a GEO spokesman would only say, "From time to time, we evaluate staff and processes and make appropriate personnel changes, if necessary. As a matter of long-standing policy, we are unable to comment on personnel-related decisions."

Meanwhile, IDOC Director Tewalt said the practice of housing Idaho inmates in an out-of-state, private prison wouldn't be changing anytime soon.

click to enlarge Eagle Pass Correctional Facility - SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS NEWS
  • San Antonio Express News
  • Eagle Pass Correctional Facility

"Out-of-state placement is the best of our worst alternatives. When you try to balance Idaho's need for beds versus the need for good outcomes, you're really trying to do as little harm as you can," said Tewalt. "With our lack of space, and the potential harm of overcrowding, we look out of state."

Tewalt said in addition to the audits at Eagle Pass, a team of IDOC officials now regularly flies to Texas to review operations at the private prison.

"Following this incident, we increased the frequency of our trips," said Tewalt, adding that Idaho is paying for the additional visits. "We have somebody onsite there at least once every two weeks."

As for the possibility of legal action filed against GEO over the events that led up to Taylor's death, Budge, who has argued jail death cases in eight states, said he was immediately drawn to some of the initial revelations, particularly in the Serious Incident Report.

"I actually commend IDOC for promptly investigating this, and for generating an SIR in relatively short order following Kim Taylor's death," said Budge. "I know that he had been in an Idaho prison for a very long time and apparently hadn't had any issues. But within a very short period of time, he goes down to Texas and he's dead. So, what happened?"

Budge said he's still at an investigatory stage, but is in the case for the long haul.

"It often takes months to get clues; it often takes years to get answers. The public needs to know about this, for sure," he said.

click to enlarge Fielding Memorial Park Cemetery, Idaho Falls - JOHN ROARK, THE POST REGISTER
  • John Roark, The Post Register
  • Fielding Memorial Park Cemetery, Idaho Falls

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