Former jail inmate to sue over injury

Ron Burdette will likely never get over his stay in the Butte County Jail. Or so says his attorney.

Burdette fell down last December during a seizure he had at the jail’s daily “pill call,” slamming his head onto a concrete floor. As a result, says Chico attorney Mike Bush, Burdette suffered a serious brain injury that will probably disable him for the rest of his life.

Burdette, who’s 50 years old and now lives in Montana, was unconscious and bleeding from the nose and mouth when he was taken to Enloe Medical Center, said Bush.

Bush said that while a neurologist hasn’t yet evaluated Burdette, it’s likely that the jail staff’s refusal to let Burdette continue taking the drug Xanex (which is often prescribed for people with anxiety and panic disorders) caused his seizure that day. Burdette, who was awaiting a hearing for failing to appear in court to face drunken-driving charges, had been taking Xanex for about 10 years, Bush said.

He added that it is common for jail health care staff to issue a “pill holiday” for inmates without insurance, a practice that abruptly takes inmates off of prescribed medications while in custody. Instead of giving Burdette the Xanex he was prescribed, Bush said, jail health care staff gave him an anti-depressant called imipramine, which, he said, triggered the seizure.

“That’s a bad combination,” Bush said. “You can tie this thing right back to the early and rapid withdrawal of Xanex and the immediate addition of imipramine. … You don’t just do that without consulting someone.”

But Jail Commander Dick Waugh said that it’s impossible for anyone without medical training to conclude that a change in Burdette’s medication was solely responsible for his fall and injury.

“We have doctors overseeing our [jail] doctors, and everything that has been done here was approved procedure,” Waugh said. “Doctors have to make those kind of decisions. They’re not for anyone else to make.”

He called Burdette’s fall an “unfortunate incident” but said that jail medical staff followed all the rules in treating him—before and after his accident.

“There’s always some controversy about what care can be provided [to the inmates],” he said. “But the bottom line is that we give medical care to anyone who asks for it.”

As a result of the seizure, Burdette has brain damage that will probably never be healed, Bush said. He has trouble concentrating, has lost most of his short-term memory, suffers a host of “emotional consequences” and can no longer work, Bush said.

After agreeing to pay about $93,000 of Burdette’s $150,000 medical bill from Enloe Medical Center, the Board of Supervisors voted to deny Burdette’s claim for damages on June 12. Bush said he expects to file a suit over the matter “within a couple of weeks,” asking for medical expenses and additional damages.

The claim comes on the heels of a suit filed by several Butte County Jail inmates who allege a laundry list of complaints about the jail’s medical care. The inmates complain about the "pill holiday" in their suit and report that "many" other inmates who are taking prescribed medication when booked into the jail are abruptly taken off the drugs in jail or given "inferior" replacements, damaging their health.