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Woman breaks her neck inside St. Clair County Jail, isn't taken to the hospital for days

'They were moving me all around and I had a broken neck.'
St. Clair County Jail
Posted at 4:12 PM, Apr 04, 2024

(WXYZ) — Imagine falling and breaking your neck, but no one takes you to the hospital right away.

That’s exactly what a local woman says happened to her inside the St. Clair County Jail and now she’s trying to make sure something like this doesn’t happen to anyone else.

Lisa Brown takes full responsibility for why she ended up briefly behind bars. But now she says a 20-day jail sentence has left her with a life sentence of partial paralysis and disability.

Brown says she’s always loved celebrating holidays, playing with her dog Lily, and being outside.

But now this 49-year-old from St. Clair says doing all of those things has become a lot more challenging after she fractured her neck.

“I didn't know if I was going to live,” Brown told 7 Investigator Heather Catallo.

And it’s what transpired after that injury that has Brown pushing for change.

“I thought, 'I can't move. What if I die? I can’t die in here.' You know, I got people. My family- It would destroy them,” said Brown through tears.

Brown admits she made a terrible choice when she decided to drink and drive.

“I was very disappointed in myself,” said Brown.

On April 20, 2021, a judge sentenced Brown to 20 days in the St. Clair County Jail.

But a few days later, Brown says she was fast asleep on the top bunk in her cell when she rolled off and fell about 6 feet to the ground.

“I fell asleep on the 23rd of April. Then I woke up on the floor. I remember myself falling,” said Brown. “But I knew something was really wrong because I could not move my body.”

“What was going through your mind,” asked Catallo.

“Oh my God. I need an ambulance. And I truly believed that the officers, when they came in, they were going to see my condition and get me to a hospital,” said Brown.

Brown says she asked to go to the hospital repeatedly.

“That’s all I could say. And they were telling me to get up, get up, get up,” said Brown.

Instead of going to the emergency room, video obtained by the 7 Investigators shows several deputies wheeled Lisa out of her cell and into an observation room.

The jail security video doesn’t have sound, but Brown appears to be screaming as her wheelchair hits the door to that room.

Jail staff then put Brown onto a mattress on the floor.

And for the next 65 hours, Brown lays flat on ground, barely moving except when deputies pull her to a sitting position at least six times.

VIDEO: Inside the St. Clair County Jail :

VIDEO: Inside the St. Clair County Jail

“I felt like I was being tortured, and I was trying to tell myself to try and move your toes and try and move your hands,” said Brown.

Brown didn’t know it yet, but she had a cervical spine fracture from the fall.

“When someone has had obvious head trauma that could result in a cervical spine injury, they need to be immediately evaluated by qualified personnel,” said Attorney Brian McKeen.

McKeen is suing the St. Clair County, the Sheriff’s Office and CHS TX, Inc. (formerly known as Corizon Health), the company the county says they hired to provide medical care inside the jail.

“If you further exacerbate the trauma by dragging somebody around and roughly picking them up and sliding them onto their jail cell up against the wall, letting them fall down repeatedly, grabbing her forcefully-- that's the worst thing you can do to someone with an unstable cervical spine fracture,” said McKeen.

McKeen says the whole time Brown was lying on the floor, she never ate and never once went to the bathroom.

According to the lawsuit, Lisa wasn’t sent to the hospital until late on the third day after her injury. When she finally got to the emergency room doctors noted that Lisa “was only able to wiggle her right toes and fingers slightly and otherwise appeared to be paralyzed from the neck down.”

Court records show the doctor also said, “It is felt as though the patient has a devastating injury.”

“The only thing that you could attribute this to is deliberate indifference,” said McKeen. “How in the world somebody could just turn a blind eye and assume that maybe it's because she's faking it without ruling out a serious medical issue is mind boggling.”

“Every single security guard is supposed to be trained on recognizing the signs of medical and mental health distress,” said Loyola University New Orleans College of Law Professor Andrea Armstrong.

Armstrong is a national expert on prison and jail conditions.

“People who were detained or incarcerated are the only population in the United States that have a constitutional right to health care. The same way that a jailer can't deny someone food, they also can't deny them health care,” said Armstrong.

In court filings, the attorney for St. Clair County and the Sheriff’s office employees deny that the deputies did anything wrong and the county is now suing the medical providers with a cross-claim. The county’s lawyer, Todd Shoudy, said “CHS TX, Inc. is paid over $2 million a year to provide healthcare to St. Clair County inmates, and their professional medical staff made all of the medical decisions in the case of Ms. Brown.”

Meanwhile, Brown says in the nearly three years since her injury, she has pushed through hours of rehabilitation to be able to walk again with assistance but says she can only go short distances.

And Brown says she no longer has full use of her hand, which means she can’t perform basic tasks like brushing her hair or typing.

“I was supposed to do 20 days and I ended up doing six weeks in the hospital with two neck surgeries. They were moving me all around and I had a broken neck,” said Brown.

The St. Clair County Sheriff declined to talk to us on camera.

Also, attorneys for the medical staff and CHS TX have not responded to the 7 Investigators requests for comment, but in court filings say that Lisa’s allegations are not true.

If you have a story for Heather Catallo, please email her at hcatallo@wxyz.com.