From his prison cell, Chinedu Efoagui sent a plea. “I am innocent,” he wrote to his lawyer. “Drop all charges.”
Born in Nigeria, Efoagui, 38, was declared a gifted student by the Ministry of Education. He graduated with a master’s degree in computer science and won the visa lottery in 2012, thereby gaining a legal path to the United States, where he became a software programmer. “It was a dream come true,” her sister Chioma said.
He had never been in conflict with the law when he was arrested in 2016 in Georgia after a strange confrontation with police at a traffic stop while suffering from a nervous breakdown.
He was sent to the Cobb County Adult Detention Center in Marietta to await trial on charges that included obstructing a police officer. Days turned into months. When the months turned to a year, he became discouraged, complaining of severe pain in his chest and legs. “I’m afraid for my life,” he wrote to his lawyer.
In his latest letter, written after more than 16 months indoors awaiting trial, he asked when he could regain his freedom. The day never came.
After 512 days behind bars, Efoagui died of a pulmonary embolism caused by a blood clot in his leg that reached his lungs, depriving him of oxygen. The treatable condition can be caused by limited movement, such as being in a confined space for long periods of time.
His death in 2017 is one of some 300 deaths documented by Reuters since 2008, in which inmates have died after languishing in local jails for at least a year without ever getting their day in court to demand their release. Eighty-five inmates waited for their cases to be resolved for at least two years before their death.
One reason: a bail system that frees defendants from the means to cover their bail. Efoagui is among those who cannot afford to pay bail, his family said. “People need the money to get out,” said Nancy Fishman, formerly a project director at the nonprofit Vera Institute of Justice in New York City. “And that means we have prisons full of poor people.”
More than 3,000 local US prisons house some 745,200 inmates. Although many are quickly released, the cases documented by Reuters reveal how justice is slowly and fatally unfolding for hundreds of people facing local charges.
Among the unconvicted inmates identified by Reuters who were locked up for at least a year, 173 deaths were caused by a health problem or illness. Sixty-one inmates died by suicide. Many suffered from untreated mental health issues while housed in county jails generally designed as short-term detention facilities.
A fateful stop
On February 19, 2016 in Georgia, Efoagui parked his 2014 Chrysler 300 in the middle of the road and approached officers investigating a car accident. He accused one of stealing his driver’s license and said he was accused of an Islamic State terrorist.
“Is he cray?” asked Dominique Lloyd, an officer from Smyrna, using slang for a madman, showed a police camera recording. “He’s 24,” Agent Jeremy Lanzing replied, using a code for a medical emergency.
Efoagui told the police that he didn’t know how to get home, then he left on the wrong side of the road. Arrested by the police, he ignored orders to stay in his car and opened the door, tripping Constable Lloyd. Lanzing fired his Taser at Efoagui’s back. “In the name of Jesus, I am not ISIS,” Efoagui said.
Lanzing said Efoagui snapped his body camera clip, laying felony charges for interfering with government property and obstructing an officer. Other charges were misdemeanors: poor speed reduction, driving on the wrong side of the road, disregarding emergency vehicles, disobeying a traffic control device.
At the Cobb detention center, medical staff at contractor Wellstar Health System called him “seriously” mentally ill. At night, he would wake up screaming and pacing.
Bond was priced at $ 15,000, beyond the reach of his family. Attorney David West attempted to get him into County Mental Health Court, a complicated plan when Efoagui refused to cooperate with mental health specialists who visited him.
In the huge prison of 2,000 inmates, Efoagui has deteriorated.
On March 27, 2017, after more than a year, he went to the infirmary with chest pain. His heart was pounding at 133 beats per minute, according to prison medical records, well beyond the normal rate for 60 to 100 adults. A doctor returned him to his cell.
In July, he complained of severe back, leg and chest pain. He waited at least a day for a nurse to respond, according to prison medical records. The next day, he was found partially naked near the toilet. Led to the infirmary, he pleaded: “Help me, I’m dying. Her body went limp.
He died on July 16. An autopsy revealed that a blood clot from his left leg had moved to his lungs, cutting off the flow of oxygen.
Smyrna police spokesman Louis Defense called the death a “tragedy” but added: “it is our job to uphold the law”. Wellstar declined to comment on Efoagui’s case, citing privacy concerns, but said specific requests for medical attention were the responsibility of the sheriff’s office. The company ended its contract with the prison in May. The prison did not respond to requests for comment.
An internal review by the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office cleared his deputies of wrongdoing. Four MPs who performed chest compression were praised for their “great job”, according to the records.
Four independent health experts who reviewed Efoagui’s medical records for Reuters said further testing could have saved him. “The swelling in her leg a few days earlier was almost certainly due to clots,” said Marc Stern, a member of the public health faculty at the University of Washington. Failure to treat his chest pain “had an even greater chance of contributing to his death.”
In Nigeria, his family is haunted by what turned out to be a death sentence for Efoagui.
“The injustice he suffered, without anyone being responsible, makes it more difficult for me to move on,” said his sister Chioma.
(This story was not edited by GalacticGaming staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)