Lawsuit: TX Jail Denied Water, Medication To Woman With HIV Before Her Death
Holly Barlow-Austin had her HIV under control with medication and was reasonably healthy when she was sent to a for-profit jail in Texas last year for a probation violation. Ten weeks later, she would die in a hospital, blind, malnourished, dehydrated and septic, FOX 23 reports.
- According to a lawsuit filed by Barlow-Austin’s family, the 46-year-old was denied life-saving medication and nourishment, despite pleading for help day after day.
- The family’s attorney, Erik J. Heipt, told The Washington Post: “Her last 48 hours (in custody) were tantamount to torture. She was beyond saving by the time they took her to the hospital.”
Barlow-Austin’s drastic health deterioration is illustrated by video footage of her final two days in jail, in which she can be seen crawling weakly around a filthy medical observation cell, emaciated and too frail to stand or walk.
- The lawsuit says jailers at Bi-State Jail in Texarkana accused Barlow-Austin of faking illness, despite troubling bloodwork results and alarming vital signs.
The federal filing accuses LaSalle Corrections, which runs Bi-State Jail and 17 other correctional facilities in Louisiana, Texas and Georgia, of neglect, abuse and the disregard of inmates' constitutional rights.
- Per the lawsuit, Barlow-Austin died of sepsis due to a fungal infection in her blood. The secondary cause of death was “cryptococcal meningitis, a brain and spinal infection caused by the fungus Cryptococcus neoformans,” specifically seen in HIV patients.
- Barlow-Austin, who had struggled with substance abuse, was arrested for a probation violation on April 5, 2019 after reportedly violating her misdemeanor probation by removing her ankle monitor to enter drug treatment in Dallas.
- Even after Barlow-Austin’s husband brought her prescriptions to the jail, they were not given to her for days, and even then were not given regularly.
- When she eventually was found to be in hypertensive crisis — an emergency situation in which blood pressure is dangerously high — the licensed vocational nurse who took her vitals failed to call 911, per the lawsuit. And by the time Barlow-Austin was taken to the hospital, she was “beyond saving."
Barlow-Austin was placed on a feeding tube and IV fluids as soon as she arrived at the emergency room, to no avail. She died June 17, six days after being admitted to the hospital.
- According to the lawsuit, Barlow-Austin’s family was never told about her medical crisis, and her husband only learned she was no longer in jail when he went to visit.
- Heipt, the family’s attorney, said no investigation took place because Barlow-Austin was released from custody before she died.
“One of the biggest problems in this case is that there has not been an investigation,” Heipt said. “The fact that they got around the in-custody death reporting requirements by simply releasing her from custody when her death was imminent, and then not reporting it to the state, is a problem.”
“So long as the corporation continues to profit, nothing changes,” the lawsuit states. “This case goes the very heart of everything that’s wrong with the privatization of America’s county jails.”
"Watch footage of Holly Barlow-Austin’s final 48 hours in jail below, courtesy of the Texarkana Gazette. Warning: The video may be disturbing for some readers to watch."