Death at the jail Howard County: Procedures should be re-evaluated after investigation into fatal asthma attack.

June 19, 1998

IT'S NOT CLEAR whether the asthma-attack death of an inmate in the Howard County Detention Center could have been avoided. There are allegations that Parrish Michael Spinoso was denied access to his medications. But jail officials contend he refused to take some of the medicines they allowed him to have.

Everyone should keep in mind that death is possible in severe asthma attacks even when medications have been taken properly.

Mr. Spinoso's condition may have been worsened by his going through withdrawal from a daily heroin habit he was alleged to have had. The jail itself, which may have had dust or other allergens that can trigger an asthma attack, also could have been a factor.

Investigations by the police and jail officials should determine whether procedures need to be changed. Police were observed allowing Mr. Spinoso, 22, to take his medications with him when he was arrested June 5 for selling heroin. He was allowed to use an inhaler and told to kick the police wagon walls if he needed attention. Jail officials said they let Mr. Spinoso keep all of his medications in his cell except for one prescription that appeared to have expired.

Official accounts of what happened at the jail have been disputed. A lawyer for the Spinoso family has an affidavit from a man who was in jail with Mr. Spinoso. The former inmate claims he heard Mr. Spinoso repeatedly ask for his asthma medication. He said the medicine was denied by a jail nurse who said a doctor first had to evaluate the medications. That was on a Saturday. The doctor wasn't to arrive until Monday. Mr. Spinoso was found dead Sunday.

The last time a death occurred at Howard's detention center was in 1995, when an inmate hanged himself. That incident led to monitoring changes that helped to save another inmate who attempted to hang himself last year. The investigation into Mr. Spinoso's death may reveal other measures that need to be taken by jail officials to monitor inmates who have life-threatening illnesses.

Pub Date: 6/19/98

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