The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Disabled Man Dies In D.C. Jail; Family Says Judge to Blame

by Dave Reynolds

After receiving a harsher than normal sentence -- ten days in jail instead of probation -- a quadriplegic man died in custody for what his family says was the state’s inability to care for him.

Oct. 5, 2004 – Family members of a quadriplegic man who died after four days behind bars, last week accused the sentencing judge of causing his death.

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Jonathan Magbie, a 27-year-old resident of Mitchellville, Maryland, was sentenced on Monday, September 20, to ten days in jail for marijuana possession.

According to the Washington Post, DC Superior Court Judge Judith E. Retchin could have served Magbie with probation, as he was a first-time offender. But Retchin said she handed down the harsher sentence because traces of cocaine and a handgun were found in the car in which Magbie was arrested in April 2003.

"Mr. Magbie, I'm not giving you straight probation," Retchin said, according to a court transcript as reported by the Post. "Although you did not plead guilty to having this gun, it is just unacceptable to be riding around in a car with a loaded gun in this city."

Magbie had been paralyzed from the neck down when he was struck by a drunk driver at age four. He got around in a wheelchair he operated with his chin, and relied on a ventilator to breathe. His family told WJLA-TV that he relied on family for his personal care and received twenty hours of nursing care daily.

The week before Magbie was sentenced, a staff member from Judge Retchin's office contacted the office of Chief Judge Rufus G. King III, the court’s liaison with the DC Corrections Department. When the staff member asked whether Corrections could house a paralyzed person in a wheelchair, the chief judge's office said it could.

Retchin said in a statement last Thursday that King’s office led her to believe Magbie's medical needs could be met.

But Leah Gurowitz, a court spokesperson , told reporters last Thursday that the full extent of Magbie's condition was not conveyed to King.

When Magbie arrived at the jail at 2:00 p.m. on September 20, an evaluation found him in need of "acute medical attention." He was transferred at 9:40 p.m. to Greater Southeast Community Hospital.

The next day, Magbie was moved to the Correctional Treatment Facility, a jail annex operated by Corrections Corporation of America under a contract with the city. A senior doctor, concerned that Magbie might not get the medical attention he needed, unsuccessfully urged the hospital to take him back. A court official told the Washington Post that the physician then asked Retchin to order the hospital to readmit Magbie. Retchin said she lacked the authority to do so.

After a couple of days of negotiations, medical staff at the facility arranged with Magbie's mother to bring his ventilator on Friday morning. Scott showed up with the ventilator at 10:00 a.m., a half-hour after he had been rushed by ambulance to the hospital.

He died later that day.

"I'm not saying that he shouldn't have been punished, because he did smoke the marijuana," Scott told the Post last week. "I just don't think it should have cost him his life."

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Dave Reynolds is a contributing journalist.

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