A Tulsa man is suing the Sheriff’s Office and its former medical provider after he developed a staph infection on his rear that went untreated, resulting in a “massive ... abscess replete with eggs from parasites,” according to the lawsuit.
The former Tulsa County Jail inmate alleges jail and medical staff ignored the seriousness of his plight for several days in June 2016, offering only ibuprofen and codeine that were “clearly inadequate and ineffective.”
The litigants believe that Zachary Plunkett developed an MRSA infection after about 18 hours in an “unsanitary” isolation cell with an injury to his tailbone/buttocks sustained prior to incarceration that staff knew about.
The methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infection severely worsened over time, with the plaintiff struggling to walk, sit and use the restroom. His backside produced a “large amount of blood and puss-like fluid” that seeped through his jail garb, forcing him to “create a make-shift diaper,” according to the lawsuit.
The 24-page civil suit was filed Tuesday in Tulsa federal court on behalf of Plunkett, 32, and seeks more than $75,000 in damages for negligence and cruel and unusual punishment. He is represented by attorney Dan Smolen of the law firm Smolen, Smolen & Roytman.
Plunkett was re-jailed in connection with a 2014 case in which he later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor driving under the influence of alcohol, driving with a revoked license, and unsafe lane use. He allegedly had violated drug court stipulations.
The defendants are Armor Correctional Health Services and three of its employees, Dr. Curtis McElroy, Sundae Phillips and Pamela Wood; the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office; and the Board of County Commissioners. The Sheriff’s Office said it can’t comment on pending litigation.
The lawsuit alleges that the “inexplicable and callous delay of treatment” permanently injured Plunkett. He first complained to detention officers on June 18, 2016, of “a sore above his rectum, profuse sweating, severe pain in the region of his buttocks and weakness” but said he was ignored.
Ultimately, he wasn’t transferred to an outside medical facility’s emergency room until about 10 days after his initial complaint to jail staff.
“When first examining Mr. Plunkett’s rectal area, the ER physician gasped, ‘Oh, my God! What happened?!?!?’” the lawsuit states. “The ER physician then looked at the TCSO officer assigned to guard Mr. Plunkett and remarked, ‘You only see things like this in third-world countries.’ ”
Plunkett was diagnosed with a “massive peri-rectal abscess replete with eggs from parasites,” according to the lawsuit. A test determined there was a MRSA infection, and the abscess had to be surgically removed with “a large amount of skin and dead tissue.”
He had “severe sepsis” — a potentially life-threatening complication from infection that can damage organ systems and cause them to fail, according to the Mayo Clinic’s website — and was given IV antibiotics and daily wound care until his release a few days later.
Four days after the first symptoms manifested while in jail, Plunkett filed a medical “sick call” through the jail’s kiosk system, the lawsuit says. Neither a nurse (that day) nor Armor’s medical director (the next day) placed Plunkett in the medical unit after each respectively evaluated him.
Another four days later, on the night of June 26, 2016, Plunkett filed a second “sick call” through the jail kiosk. He reported that his condition had deteriorated and that he needed to see a doctor “immediately” in part because “blood was all over my sheets the past 4 mornings.”
A nurse responded the next morning and documented that Plunkett “needed to be seen by the physician ‘today.’ ” However, a neither a physician nor any health-care provider saw him until the following day, the lawsuit claims.
“From June 22 through all of June 28, Mr. Plunkett was provided with no medical assistance for his worsening condition whatsoever, aside from ibuprofen and codeine, which were clearly inadequate and ineffective,” the lawsuit alleges.
A physician saw Plunkett 41 hours after his second kiosk request, diagnosing him with an “intergluteal hematoma” and ordering that he be transferred to an emergency room “for evaluation,” according to the lawsuit.
Sheriff Vic Regalado took office in April 2016, and three months later, in July, gave a 120-day termination notice to Armor that the Sheriff’s Office was ending its contract.
Just five months after Plunkett’s alleged ordeal, the Sheriff’s Office had ditched Armor for a new medical provider — Turn Key Health Clinics of Oklahoma City — which began services Dec. 1, 2016.
In an interview with the Tulsa World in December 2017 about legal costs, Regalado noted that he hired Turn Key to make mental health a priority and provide “proper and up-to-date” medical care.
The sheriff also emphasized a priority on ensuring inmates’ kiosk requests for medical care are taken care of and don’t backlog.
Regalado said he hired David Parker as jail administrator to hold detention officers accountable and ensure they adhere to policies and procedures.