A medically vulnerable individual incarcerated at the Allegheny County Jail says he had a stroke after the jail refused him necessary medication for an extended period of time and that he was left laying unresponsive on the floor of his cell for more than an hour during a medical emergency late last year.
Denzelle Kendrick, 26, was transferred to Allegheny County Jail from Cambria County last summer so that he could access better medical care for his sickle cell disease and avascular necrosis of the hip, his lawyers say.
Allegheny County Jail did not provide him with any of his “numerous medications for his multiple illnesses” for the first two months of his incarceration there, Dolly Prabhu of the Abolitionist Law Center writes in a Jan. 24 letter to the county’s law department.
“Sickle cell disease is a chronic illness where red blood cells are misshapen and can get stuck in small blood vessels throughout the body, causing severe pain," Prabhu writes. "Such a pain episode is called a vaso-occlusive crisis or sickle cell pain crisis. These crises are extremely painful, with patients rating the pain in the range of delivering a baby or passing a kidney stone,” adding that sickle cell crises can also cause infection, seizures, stroke, and death if they are not immediately addressed.
After two months without any medication, Prabhu says jail medical staff gave Kendrick some but not all of the medications prescribed to him. Dr. Ines Kananda of the jail medical staff allegedly discontinued some of Kendrick’s medication, including pain medication that was consistent with national guidelines for managing sickle cell disease.
“The reasoning provided to Mr. Kendrick for the discontinuation was that Dr. Kananda had family members with sickle cell disease who were doing fine without oxycodone,” Prabhu says.
Kendrick has suffered from sickle cell disease since birth, his mother, Cadiadra Kendrick, tells Pittsburgh City Paper. During certain years of his childhood, she says he had as many as 52 hospitalizations in one year.
Cadiadra says she found Kananda’s decision perplexing, since “this is not a hematologist or oncologist,” and his recommendation contradicted those of Kendrick’s life-long medical care team.
“We have provided them with everything that they needed,” Cadiadra says, “So they have the medical records, they’ve spoken with [his hematologist], they have spoken to other physicians that have cared for him his whole life.”
Prabhu says Kendrick has had six seizures since he’s been incarcerated at Allegheny County Jail and that the correctional officers don’t take his requests for medical care seriously, and medical staff do not follow up with him in a timely manner. Prabhu writes that Kendrick conservatively estimates his requests for urgent medical attention have been ignored 30 times during his time at ACJ. Kendrick also reports that the medications he does receive are often withheld for weeks without explanation, leading to severe and unaddressed pain.
“After long periods of waiting to be seen by medical staff, Mr. Kendrick is often unable to move due to the pain and must inform his cellmate to watch over him and prevent him from hitting his head or biting his tongue if he begins seizing,” Prabhu writes.
Prior to a severe pain crisis on or around Dec. 4, 2022, Prabhu reports that Kendrick had been requesting medical attention for several days to no avail. When he was in the throes of the pain crisis, Prabhu says Kendrick was repeatedly told medical staff was unavailable to treat him. At least 90 minutes after he requested urgent medical help on Dec. 4, the first of three medical emergencies was called and Kananda arrived at the jail.
Prabhu reports that by the time the doctor arrived, Kendrick was curled up into a ball on the floor and could not move.
“Dr. Kananda began to yell at Mr. Kendrick, to get up, to ‘cut this bullshit out.’ He accused him of wasting staff’s time, and threatened to send him to the Restricted Housing Unit,” Prabhu writes.
At this point, Prabhu says Kendrick lost consciousness, and Kananda left him in his cell without further medical attention.
Prabhu and Cadiadra say the allegation that Kendrick was left unconscious for over an hour with no medical attention is corroborated by videos recorded by another incarcerated individual who identifies Kendrick as the subject of a medical emergency. However, jail spokesperson Jesse Geleynse disputes this, telling City Paper, "the video shared was not of any incident involving Mr. Kendrick."
Prabhu writes that correctional staff had to call a second and third medical emergency before Kendrick was taken to the hospital on a stretcher. At the hospital, Prabhu says Kendrick was diagnosed with pneumonia and an upper respiratory infection and was informed he had had a stroke.
Cadiadra tells City Paper she has struggled for months to get answers from jail staff regarding her son’s medical condition.
“When I call down there, I don’t get any answers. I’m not getting medical. I’m not even getting the warden,” she says.
Cadiadra took her allegations of medical neglect to the media last week, at which point she says she spoke with Warden Orlando Harper for the first time.
“He only called me after he seen me on the news,” she says.
When she spoke with Harper, Cadiadra says he told her “he was going to do everything in his power to make sure that Denzelle gets the treatment that they feel that it’s necessary for him to receive. And that blew me away… it’s what [Harper] feels, it’s what that doctor feels, it’s what everybody else feels except for the person who has been caring for my son [his whole life]. My son has a terminal illness. It’s not a game.”
Kendrick has since been returned to the jail, where Prabhu says he has been placed in the Restricted Housing Unit due to the leaked YouTube videos and charged with possessing “weapons or implements of escape.”
Cadiadra says the disciplinary action and additional charge baffles her.
“I didn't understand that, because if my son is on the ground, unresponsive, what does he have to do about somebody recording a video? But let’s thank god that that video was recorded, because no one would believe me … and that’s what the warden said to me, he said, ‘How do you know your son was on the ground unresponsive, did you see him?’
“And I said, ‘Did you see him?’ and I ended the conversation after that. I couldn’t believe he said that to me,” Cadiadra says.
The Abolitionist Law Center demands the jail give him appropriate medical care and investigate Kananda’s conduct.
Jail spokesperson Jesse Geleynse says the Warden and the jail's health services administrator Ashley Brinkman were in contact with Cadiadra prior to any media coverage.
"We will continue to remain in touch with her when there are medical decisions to be made," he tells City Paper in an email. "We can always improve communication and will continue to work to do so."
Geleynse further notes that the jail will not comment on an incarcerated individual's medical incidents.
Other Jail News
James Byrd, the incarcerated individual who allegedly recorded Denzelle Kendrick’s sickle cell pain crisis, has lost his electronics privileges as well as his right to represent himself in court after videos in which he identified his alleged victim by name were posted to YouTube, Paula Reed Ward of TribLive reports. In April 2021, a judge ruled that Byrd could have access to a laptop in order to prepare his defense. The jail says the laptop’s camera should have been disabled.
In a new lawsuit, an individual incarcerated in Allegheny County Jail says a slick shower floor and lack of an accessible guard rail led to a fall and herniated discs in July 2022, the Pennsylvania Record reports.
This week, Allegheny County Council declined to censure at-large Councilmember Bethany Hallam (D-North Side) for her remarks at this month’s Jail Oversight Board meeting. Hallam called fellow oversight board member Elliot Howsie a “prick” when he attempted to stop her from questioning warden Orlando Harper about an investigation into staff misconduct. Councilmember Sam DeMarco (R-North Fayette) introduced the censure motion, also sponsored by Bob Macey (D-West Mifflin), saying he felt Hallam’s behavior was “beneath the dignity of our office.” Several members of the public spoke in Hallam’s defense, lauding her commitment to improving conditions at the jail and noting that few other councilmembers attend JOB meetings or publicly address the frequent reports of abuse and neglect at the jail. Check out former CP managing editor and current TribLive reporter Ryan Deto’s summary of council’s discussion and vote on the censure.
Who was in the jail this month?
Source: Allegheny County Analytics unless otherwise specified
From Jan. 1, 2023 to Jan. 26, 2023
Average daily population of jail and alternative housing: 1,589 individuals.
Gender: Most people in the jail are men. Women make up about 11% of the jail population. It’s unclear how many trans, nonbinary, and/or gender nonconforming people there are in the jail.
Race: 68% of people incarcerated at the jail this month were Black. Allegheny County as a whole is 13% Black.
Children: Twenty four individuals under 18 are currently held in the jail, making up approximately 2% of its average daily population.
Senior citizens: 170 individuals over the age of 65 are currently held in the jail.
Isolation: The jail’s monthly segregation report says that, between COVID mitigation and inclement weather that restricted outdoor recreation possibilities, the entire facility was on lockdown in December 2022. The report says “all incarcerated individuals experienced limited time out-of-cell,” meaning fewer than the four hours of out-of-cell time mandated by the 2021 referendum banning solitary confinement at the jail.
COVID-19: According to the segregation report, as of Jan. 1, the facility had four COVID cases.