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Man Jailed Over a Marijuana Cookie Died After Seizure in Prison

Family files lawsuit after surveillance footage shows staff failing to get him medical help.

Gwinnett County Jail footageGwinnett County Jail footageChris Howard, 23, was booked into the Gwinnett County, Georgia, jail in February 2017 after testing positive for marijuana while on probation for a drunk driving arrest. According to a local news report, he had shared a marijuana cookie with his girlfriend on Valentine's Day.

On February 15, Howard had a seizure and went into convulsions while in a holding cell. Surveillance video shows several jail deputies forcefully holding Howard down. The deputies subsequently claimed that Howard was being "aggressive," something I couldn't see in any of the surveillance footage that has been released, all of which shows Howard on the ground.

Eventually, Howard was removed from the holding tank but rather than being brought someplace to receive medical treatment, he's put in a separate jail cell and left there for at least 30 minutes. Surveillance footage from the cell shows Howard, not raging or acting aggressive, writhing around on the floor in apparent pain and occasionally managing to get to his knees and beat on the door in an attempt to get somebody to help him.

In the video, Howard is finally removed from the cell, but according to the lawsuit, deputies still didn't get Howard medical care because jail policy required him to be in a jail uniform before he could see a facility care provider. Howard hadn't yet been processed, so there was another delay where they had to change Howard's clothes. He was so weak at this point that two deputies needed to assist him.

By the time deputies got Howard to the medical facility within the jail, his condition had deteriorated to the point that medical staff told them Howard needed to go to the hospital. "Y'all brought a dead man," one member of the medical team told the deputies, the lawsuit claims.

Howard was taken to Gwinnett Medical Center, where doctors determined he had gone into cardiac arrest. He never regained consciousness, and died in the hospital.

All of this over a marijuana cookie.

Howard's treatment at the jail is not an anomaly, say many people who have spent time there. In December, a class-action lawsuit was filed representing 75 people who have been detained at Gwinnett County Jail, accusing the jail's "Rapid Response Team" (the same team who responded to Howard's seizure) of excessive force and violating the rights of detainees.

The jail has been subject to other lawsuits and investigations because of the Rapid Response Team. A federal grand jury has requested records about the use of force there. A deputy resigned last year and was charged with battery after punching a mentally ill inmate several times in the head.

This is not a maximum security facility housing the hardest of the hardcore. It's a regular county jail, and many of its occupants have not been convicted. The Netflix documentary First and Last, which I reviewed here in October, tracked the lives of several people who were either being processed into the jail or leaving the jail after serving short sentences. Like Howard, many people in the jail are there for minor drug-related probation violations. There were several people in the documentary who were serving sentences in jail entirely for marijuana use. As I wrote in my review, First and Last does a terrible job of addressing jail abuses, and in six episodes, does not once reference the troubled Rapid Response Team.

The surveillance videos are difficult to watch, even without any sound. That this was the end for Chris Howard is a tragedy, and the result of our foolishly ruthless drug war.

You can read the lawsuit here.

Photo Credit: Gwinnett County Jail surveillance footage

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  • loveconstitution1789||

    "Man Jailed over a Marijuana Cookie Died After Seizure in Prison"

    So weed does kill?

    BTW, Shackford Prison is very different than Jail.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Many County jails do have serious problems with getting people medical attention. They also have a bunch of retards trying to waste taxpayers time faking shit.

    One solution is dont take drugs when you agree to probation because you might end up in a shitty country jail and not get immediate medical attention.

    This guy was on probation and popped positive for drugs. He was clearly being held in country jail until his probation revocation hearing.

    He already waived many of his rights by taking probation, like right to jury trial.

    Shackford, maybe you should not be the person writing crime and punishment articles when you don't even understand the basics of how the system works.

    With all that being said, drug law are unconstitutional as the government has no current power to ban products or services. Even the Prohibitionists knew that.

  • Kwix||

    Una-troll trolls by blaming the victim. How very original.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Poor reason troll. It cannot read past its script.

  • Zeb||

    Seriously? You're just going to call anyone who doesn't say nice things about you a troll now?

  • loveconstitution1789||

    So you're a troll now Zeb. Shame.

    You always almost had potential.

  • Zeb||

    I'll take that as a "yes", then.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    When you act like a troll and dont contribute anything, then you are a troll.

    You even back up trolls, so theres that.

  • chemjeff radical individualist||

    You have your answer.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Yup. Chemjeff is one of the biggest trolls around here.

    The proof is his comment. Nothing added to this discussion.

    Reason has so many new trolls that they just end up talking each other.

  • Zeb||

    And your last 3 comments added something?

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Yup. Added notice to anyone looking at thos comment section that youre a troll.

  • shamrock||

    It wasn't *ALL* over a marijuana cookie. He was also a convicted drunk driver on probation. If it wasn't for that first mistake he would never had been tested for drugs.

  • Zeb||

    OK, well, I guess he deserved to die then.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Evidently a seizure killed him.

    Evidently, he would have died if he had a seizure at home without anyone to help him too.

    Reason tends to pick weak principals, to make its "get rid of government arguments", when Reason throws its principles out the window.

  • Zeb||

    But he wasn't at home alone and the people who had custody of him were negligent.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Negligent of what?

    Putting drugs into his system? Causing his seizure somehow?

  • chemjeff radical individualist||

    but rather than being brought someplace to receive medical treatment, he's put in a separate jail cell and left there for at least 30 minutes.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    He's in a jail. People get left in cells.

    Good thing government has qualified immunity for things like this.

  • Zeb||

    The jail had custody of him. They were responsible for his well being. It's not as if he just died in his cell before anyone saw that something was wrong.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Exactly. They tried to help him within two minutes and then had him taken to the Hospital.

    All they are required to do.

    Another loser case for ending government.

  • sharmota4zeb||

    Yeah, if you block someone from getting help from others by keeping him locked up, you have an obligation to give him that help yourself. The Supreme Court decided that neglecting to give someone medical care is cruel and unusual punishment.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    They brought in medical staff and medical equipment in under 2 minutes.

    If a person is having a seizure most people monitor that person until they work through it.

    We will never find out if anyone called an ambulance because this narrative is about ending government.

  • shamrock||

    Zeb, that doesn't seem right.

  • Cyto||

    This is absolutely predictable behavior. Prison guards have to view their charges as less than human in order to survive. It is just the way human psychology works.

    Some super-progressive investigative journalist went under cover for a Mother Jones expose on corporate prisons. He was a guard for 4 months. He writes of his changing behavior and the nasty way he began treating people. An expose that was intended to rip the mask off of capitalism and evil profit motives instead ended up reinforcing the already well known fact that people will be really crappy to each other when given appropriate incentives.

  • Zeb||

    Yup. It wasn't just bad luck that things like Nazi Germany and the USSR happened. People have a tremendous capacity for evil, even if they don't know it.

  • Zeb||

    Your observation, coupled with stories like this, should really make people think about what actions really justify imprisoning someone. Imprisonment is treated way too casually, as if it's not really a big deal to lock someone up, even for a few days. But if you ask me, it's such a fundamental infringement of pretty much all of a person's natural rights, and so thoroughly dehumanizing, that it should be treated way more seriously. If a person isn't an actual threat to others, why should they be locked up? Fines and restitution should be plenty of punishment for many crimes.

  • sharmota4zeb||

    Yeah, jail ends up teaching people how to be anti-social and then releasing them into society so we can all put up with that behavior. Psych wards do the same thing in a different way.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Goes to show that some people who want to legalize drugs cannot handle that people die because of drugs and that is on those people for ingesting something unnecessary that might kill them.

    Personal accountability goes both ways.

    Either government needs to save you from yourself or it doesn't.

    I say it doesn't.

    Government does need to take steps toward better handling of people in its custody, especially for minor criminal charges. The government is partly responsible for those people in custody.

  • Frank Thorn||

    Life is cheaper for the rabble.

  • sharmota4zeb||

    It's difficult. The only way to legalize all drugs as a matter of principle is to allow a cafe to put sulfuric acid in the coffee provided it was on the ingredient list. Most people would not notice it being there. Are we willing to put up with people drinking things and dying one at a time until a restaurant gets a reputation for being deadly? What about the restaurant in Little Italy that is an unlucky place to patronize if a certain family does not like you?

    At the end of the day, the libertarian solution is freedom and responsibility. We need to challenge murder directly instead of letting the DEA look like life saving heroes by locking up youths with marijuana cookies in their stomachs.

  • EscherEnigma||

    Intentionally causing harm via knowingly putting something dangerous in a person's food is assault. Legalizing drugs does nothing to change that.

  • Hank Phillips||

    What? Was there ethanol in the cookie?

  • Hank Phillips||

    What? Was there ethanol in the cookie?

  • Myk||

    When all you have is a hammer everyone looks like someone to beat with it.

    What's worse is the attitude has spread to medical personnel. If you're chronic it doesn't take long before the ER decides you're a drug seeker and you get no help.

  • Zeb||

    jail policy required him to be in a jail uniform before he could see a facility care provider. Howard hadn't yet been processed, so there was another delay where they had to change Howard's clothes.

    Holy shit, that's retarded. If he hadn't been processed, how about just sending him to the hospital and arresting him again later?

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Zeb is against having government so everything they do is stupid.

    Policy to prevent fake medical issues to escape would never cross the mind of Zeb.

  • croaker||

    Better to let them escape rather than get fucked in the ass for failure to provide timely care in an obvious medical emergency.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Who would Jesus jail and kill over a plant leaf cookie?

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