Death of Lee Michael Creely as a result of Chatham County Jail negligence
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This article is the first in a three-part series examining the life of Lee Michael Creely, who died at the Chatham County Detention Center in September 2020. His death revealed procedural errors on the part of prison guards in the county and the privately contracted health care company overseeing inmates, many of whom, like Creely, suffer from drug addiction. While these mistakes contributed to his death, Creely’s life story sheds light on how many people in our community were born “already late” and how intergenerational and lifelong battles with substance abuse and lack of wraparound support have resounding consequences not only in their own lives, but in the whole community. As journalist Katie Nussbaum reported in 2021, opioid addiction “attacks everyone.”
Before the start of every Wildcats football game, Jessica Hodges’ 13-year-old son peers into the stands, searching for his father’s face.
When Lee Michael Creely died in Chatham County Detention Center in early September 2020, his teenage son and younger brother lost their father – and their biggest fan.
The season after Lee’s death, his eldest son, who plays for his college in Chatham, considered quitting football. It was even hard to put on a helmet without thinking of the man who had taught him how to spiral.
Prior to this September, whenever he ran on the sidelines during a timeout, he would huddle with his dad to discuss the defensive plan. The mere thought of running on the sidelines without his father there evoked a feeling of loneliness, made him start overthinking.
He considered quitting.
But he knew his father loved watching him play, so he decided to carry on in memory of him and his dedication. For the past two years, he’s worn a sticker on his helmet with Lee’s name, birthday, and day of death under a pair of angel wings.
“I felt like he was with me, like he was always there,” Creely’s eldest son said.
Last year, he had his best season with 30 touchdowns.
After games, he rolled down the windows and lambasted Nas, his father’s favorite emcee, and rapped.
But for him and the rest of the family, the grief has been anything but easy.
When her youngest son, 7, walked onto the baseball field for his first season, his mother Jessica Hodges noticed him burying his face in his glove repeatedly, sobbing, remembering the man who taught him to throw.
The family attends counseling sessions, during which they mostly talk about Lee and how his loss has changed them. When dusk turns to dawn, the family gathers in the living room, weeping and praying.
In those moments, Hodges can’t help but think about how law enforcement treated her partner, the father of her two sons, the man she met when he was 19 and she was 21, when Lee Michael was vacationing with his family in Brunswick, Georgia. At the time, Lee Michael helped Hodges, who was on crutches because she broke her ankle playing softball, out of her red Mustang.
“I’m haunted by the way they treated them,” Hodges said. “The fact that he was alone. And they didn’t help him. He didn’t deserve this.”
These enduring feelings for Lee are why she filed a lawsuit on February 2, 2022, on behalf of herself and her children, against Chatham County, Chatham County Jail, Correcthealth, health care provider prison private, the founder and owner of Correcthealth, and the prison’s nurses, sheriff’s deputies, and corrections officers.
Review reveals missteps, wrongdoings
Savannah Morning News reviewed thousands of public documents – two Chatham County Sheriff’s Officer internal affairs investigations, Correcthealth medical records, two autopsies, video footage and photographs from the jail and police reports – to illustrate how Creely’s death cannot simply be seen as the consequence of drugs. addiction, but more so by a series of missteps ranging from the lack of drug treatment to the bureaucracy of probation to the lax administration of private health care within the prison and the lack of supervision by correctional officers . All of this is backed up by two Chatham County internal affairs investigations, 89 pages in total, which uncovered wrongdoing by guards and nurses responsible for managing and caring for inmates. This case, more than anything, raises questions about how prisons deal with repeat drug offenders and whether or not they provide them with the necessary treatment not only in custody, but when they leave custody and attempt to reintegrate into the community.
At press time, nearly 60% of inmates held at the Chatham County Detention Center – 669 out of 1,119 – are incarcerated for drug offences, according to public information officer Parla Parker. from the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office, which oversees the detention center. Of these 669 people, 137 were arrested for possession, 304 for possession to distribute, 46 for drug trafficking and 182 for possession of drug-related objects.
“Through interviews and review of video footage from September 3-6, 2020, violations of policy/procedure have been found,” wrote Chatham County Jail Internal Affairs Investigator Lt. Tanya Jacques. . “Security checks were not carried out properly, census check, general conduct and medical protocol for individual detox were not followed.”
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Parker said Sheriff John Wilcher declined to comment specifically on the case because of the ongoing trial and referred all questions to Chatham County District Attorney Jon Hart. In a phone call, Hart declined to comment, citing a “local rule” that you don’t comment on a case if it’s pending in federal court.
Although Lt. Jacques questioned the officers at length, it is not clear whether she did the same with the nurses: the AI investigation recorded only one paragraph about the nurses’ treatment – or lack thereof – of Creely during his lifetime.
After a wing officer opened Creely’s cell, Nurse Lowretta Florence entered. Florence performed a PPD test for tuberculosis on Creely’s left arm and spoke to him briefly. A minute passed. Florence grabbed her provisions and left the cell. The wing officer closed the door behind her. It was September 5, 2020, 7:44 a.m. That was the last nurses saw Creely alive.
A subsequent 18-page review by Dr. Kenneth A. Ray and Dr. Ronald Shansky, two court-appointed monitors, published September 30, 2020, found that “correct healthcare policies and procedures indicate that several relevant health care requirements of health care were not followed.”
“Review of the complete electronic medical record revealed no documentation demonstrating compliance with treatment protocols ordered by the treating provider,” Ray and Shansky concluded. “In fact, there is no documentation to demonstrate that the inmate received any care from healthcare staff after the protocols were initiated. Several existing health care policies were not followed. The record suggests that this death likely could have been avoided if existing standard health care policies and protocols had been followed as written and ordered. There are concerns about documentation, assessment and treatment delivery.
UPDATE: Sheriff fires fourth officer in death of Chatham County jail inmate; an officer arrested on Friday
The CorrectHealth website does not list a point of contact. The Savannah Morning News contacted the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office for a representative from Correcthealth. Multiple calls and emails to a Correcthealth services administrator and the Chatham County Sheriff’s Department Director of Nursing and Correcthealth senior management were not returned.
But long before a person was incarcerated, and long before they could suffer the neglect of a correctional officer and a prison nurse, something in their life led them to commit a crime.
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