Autopsy: Jail inmate suffered for days while locked up

Target 8

MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — A mother of three in the Muskegon County Jail on a probation violation died of multiple brain hemorrhages brought on by an infection she had suffered for days while locked up, according to an autopsy report obtained by Target 8.

Tiffany Davis, 39, was the second Muskegon County Jail inmate to die in-custody in less than a year — both deaths raising questions about the care provided by an out-of-state health care company.

Muskegon County Sheriff Michael Poulin told Target 8 that an investigation by the Michigan Sheriff’s Association found that his jail guards acted appropriately in the April 2019 death of Paul Bulthouse, who suffered 17 seizures in a close-observation cell.

However, the sheriff said two jail nurses, both working for the health-care provider, Wellpath, are no longer at the jail. One was involved in Bulthouse’s care. The other in the care of Davis.

On Thursday, Wellpath said in a statement it “takes accusations of misconduct seriously.”

“While we do not discuss personnel matters publicly, we discipline staff members whose actions do not reflect our values and mission to deliver high quality, compassionate care to our patients. Wellpath will take appropriate disciplinary action,” it said.

Davis’s cellmate, Keri Smith, told Target 8 she was with her when the symptoms started on Feb. 18 — first a headache, then vomiting, then seizures.

She said she begged a jail nurse to send her to the hospital that day. The jail sent her the next afternoon.

Davis was pronounced brain dead two days after that at Mercy Health Hackley Campus in Muskegon.

“The lady (the lead nurse) assured me, I said, ‘Are you taking her to a hospital?'” the cellmate said. “She says, ‘We can take care of this.’ I said, ‘Well, are you taking her to the hospital?’ She goes, ‘She’s going to be just fine.'”

“She put her arms on my shoulders and said, ‘This is my call.’ She said, ‘She’s going to be OK. It’s my call.'”

LAUGHING, JOKING AND SUFFERING

Davis’s mother, Gracie Michael, also told Target 8 that she repeatedly asked the jail to send her daughter to the hospital that day.

“My daughter would be alive today. My daughter would be alive today,” the mother said. “These people didn’t care at all,” the cellmate said. “I mean, they were laughing and joking, and this woman suffered, unbelievably suffered.”

The autopsy report confirmed Davis had complained of headaches, nausea, vomiting, involuntary movements and photophobia, or intolerance to light, on Feb. 18. She had no illegal drugs in her system.

The report also shows her fever reached 100.4.

“She felt like she was burning up,” her cellmate said.

The sheriff operates the jail, which has a five-year, $6.7 million contract with Tennessee-based Wellpath to provide medical care.

The company has faced 1,400 federal lawsuits over deaths and allegations of poor care at jails across the country. 

The Michigan Attorney General is still investigating the death of Bulthouse, 39, in response to a Target 8 investigation.

SHERIFF: GUARDS DID NO WRONG

Target 8’s review of surveillance video found that a guard watched one of Bulthouse’s 17 seizures, then walked away. Bulthouse died 2.5 hours later without medical help.

The sheriff said that guard was placed on paid leave until an investigation cleared him — finding he had reported it to the medical unit.

“The person he reported it to in the medical department did not respond back to that cell at that time,” the sheriff said. That, he said, “absolutely” should have happened.

“We went through time-by-time when the guards were doing their rounds,” the sheriff said. “They were doing what they were supposed to do, the guards were.”

However, he said, he plans to install a second set of monitors at the guard station to make it easier to watch inmates.

A Target 8 review of surveillance video in the Bulthouse case showed the jail had appeared to violate state rules by not continuously monitoring the inmate in the close-observation cell.

It’s clear in the video that deputies were not continuously watching the video screen.

In fact, a guard wrote that Bulthouse “could be seen on the camera system,” but that the “computer that shows all the cameras … is not directly visible by staff.”

HEADACHES, VOMITING, SEIZURES

The sheriff’s association is still investigating Tiffany Davis’ death.

Davis had a short history of minor crimes and was locked up for violating probation.

She and Keri Smith, who was locked up on a drug charge, were cellmates for two months.

“We got very close, very, very close,” the cellmate said. “She talked about her children and her family so much that I felt like I know them.”

The cellmate said Davis first complained of a headache early in the morning on Feb. 18.

“Hey Bunkie, do you have some Tylenol?” she recalled her asking. “She goes, ‘My head is pounding.'”

Then, she said, it got worse — Davis moaning when the lights were turned on for breakfast.

“At this time, she wasn’t even able to get up off of her bunk,” the cellmate said.

The cellmate told Target 8 she hit the cell’s emergency button repeatedly that day — sometimes with no answer.

Once, she said, a nurse gave Davis a glass of water while a guard stood by.

“Tiffany was shaking, and he (the guard) goes, ‘Shaking, that’s a nice touch.'”

Later, after Davis started vomiting, she said, guards told her cellmate there was no room in the jail’s medical unit.

Instead, she said Davis stayed with her in the 6-by-8-foot cell splashed with vomit.

“At this point, I know that it’s just me and her, and I’m trying everything,” the cellmate said. “I moved her bunk to the floor, I was trying massages. I tried all kinds of things to ease the pain. She was in so much pain. I’m talking so much pain.”

Still that morning, the cellmate said she got Davis into the shower in their cell to cool off.

“She couldn’t stand. She couldn’t stand. She was trying to touch things that weren’t there,” she said. “She fell into my arms, literally fell into my arms, collapsed and went completely unconscious.”

“And I’m screaming and pounding on the door, pushing the button, first thing I did was push the button, pounding on the door, ‘Get help now, now, now, now!’ and I was just screaming that over and over again.”

She said other inmates were screaming from their cells, too.

Guards, she said, led Davis to the medical unit.

“She could not even hold her head up,” she said. “This was bad and they were rolling their eyes, looking at each other rolling their eyes, like she’s faking it.”

The autopsy report shows guards returned Davis to her cell several hours later, where her cellmate says she suffered yet another seizure.

That, she said, is when guards led Davis to the medical unit for the last time.

Jail medical staff told the medical examiner investigator that Davis’ vital signs were close to normal the next day, though she still complained of nausea, dizziness and a headache.

But the jail called for an ambulance at 3 p.m. that day after medical staff noticed a “declined, non-verbal response.”

She was brain dead two days later at the hospital, on Feb. 21, but was kept alive to donate her organs. Her official date of death was Feb. 24.

Dr. Elizabeth Douglas, the pathologist who performed the autopsy, wouldn’t say whether sending her to the ER sooner could have saved her life.

“I defer to the physicians who practice clinical medicine on the matter of improved outcomes based on earlier treatment in this case,” she said.

Dr. Christopher Marquart, a neurosurgeon who worked on the case, has told Target 8 that doctors might have been able to save Davis had the jail dropped her off sooner. 

The sheriff, however, blamed Davis for not complaining sooner.

“I think if she shared some information with us about how she was feeling earlier on, we probably could have gotten her to the hospital sooner,” he said.

He also placed some of the blame on the dead inmates.

“A lot of things went on that kind of led to this,” Poulin said. “Some of these that went on lead all the way back to lifestyle choices of an individual, not taking care of their health.”

He said he’s confident in his jail to care for inmates.

“The dollars are being spent; the medications are being given out. Those things are happening,” he said.

As for the cellmate, she said three detectives have interviewed her about the death. She has also talked to the Davis family attorney.

“I’m never ever going to let this go. Ever,” the cellmate said. “This was a beautiful woman. I got to know her very well. She did not deserve to die. Oh, my God. Nobody deserves to die like that.”

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