An attorney for a man in prison asked a judge to release his client on medical grounds. The man’s heart condition puts him at risk of serious illness if he becomes infected with COVID-19.
Jaylon Makaihl Clark, 20, has hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a relatively common genetic disease in which the heart muscle becomes too thick. In some people it may not be a problem, in others it is severe and can cause an irregular heartbeat or cardiac arrest.
Clark also has ventricular tachycardia, which makes his heart beat too fast. According to the Centers for Disease Control, people fall into two categories of risk for serious health complications due to the new coronavirus.
At the age of 12, Clark had a device implanted that functions as both a pacemaker and a defibrillator and, if necessary, restores his heart to normal activity. According to the medical records of Clark’s mother, Barbara Clark, he has had multiple cases of cardiac arrest over the years.
Clark’s attorney Joshua Kotter is asking Yellowstone District Judge Michael Moses to either release his client from prison or lower his bail at his discretion.
The Yellowstone County Prosecutor’s Office will deny the release request at its own discretion but let the court assess the situation, according to Melissa Williams, the county’s chief civil lawyer.
Clark was previously released at his own discretion and charged with a new crime in his absence. “That’s why he’s there,” said Williams.
Clark has five active criminal offenses including allegations that he participated in a home burglary that attacked two women at home and a toddler aimed a shotgun at them; Allegations of gun whipping of another man at a hotel meeting; and allegations that he and a friend fired multiple shots at an unoccupied vehicle after an argument with the owner and that a bullet was shot through the front window of the house beyond. He denied the charges.
In a petition for his client’s release, Kotter claims the prison did not adequately respond to Clark’s medical needs.
The allegations include that in recent weeks prison staff have not given Clark access to the cell phone issued by his doctors at the Billings Clinic to record symptoms at the beginning of an episode of irregular heartbeat. The device should collect data for a period of 30 days, according to Clark’s medical records.
Clark’s doctors’ follow-up recommendations were not followed while he was in prison, says Kotter. The recommendations included an echocardiogram to check his heart condition and a sleep study to see if he needed supplemental oxygen, the petition says.
Kotter said his client’s concerns date back to October 2019, when he alleged that local medical staff had denied concerns about the beeping sound from Clark’s device, which could indicate a low battery. A few days later, Clark was taken to the Billings Clinic in an ambulance and admitted, according to medical records. Doctors replaced his device and prescribed a new drug to treat his fast heart rate.
In the petition for his client’s release, Kotter said the prison staff “completely disregarded Mr. Clark’s life” and did not “bother to provide Mr. Clark with the necessary health care to keep him alive”.
Williams, the district attorney, said the claim was “terrible,” noting that lawyers and courts have been working since March to minimize the prison population because of concerns about the disease.
“I think the prison would prefer that no one is currently incarcerated, but that is not their choice,” she said.
The privacy laws prevented the county from responding to allegations of Clark’s welfare in prison, Williams said.
The protocol requires inmates to sign an exemption that allows on-site medical staff to access medical history from outside providers. She said that the on-site vendors who manned the facility around the clock are “constantly” communicating with outside vendors.
“Getting medical help for inmates there is not particularly controversial,” said Williams.
It was a difficult time for Barbara Clark. She had urged Kotter, her son’s court-appointed attorney, to seek medical release since October, emailing him saying that she was “panicking” over concerns for her son’s life, and everything what i do is call afterwards call. “
She has traveled to jail to share her concerns and read articles about the added risks her son’s conditions pose with COVID-19.
Barbara Clark said that her son told her on a phone call this week that he had been tested for COVID-19 after having a sore throat and other symptoms, but that he was not yet aware of the result.
According to Lt. Steve Metzger the prison had no active COVID-19 cases as of Friday afternoon. As of August 1, a total of 64 inmates have tested positive.
On Thursday, the state announced that a fifth prison inmate had died of COVID-19.
A quarter of the current prison population has already been sentenced and is awaiting transportation to the prison or Montana Justice Department’s treatment facilities, Metzger said. The department’s delay or suspension in moving its own inmates out of overcrowded county jails has been a point of friction with officials in several Montana counties.
The Yellowstone County prison had 488 inmates as of Friday. It’s built for 434. Without the state’s inmates, the prison would only have 365 inmates.
Public health officials are still preparing for an expected increase in cases resulting from gatherings on Thanksgiving weekend.
Both Billings hospitals are under pressure. According to the state on Thursday, more than 90% of beds in St. Vincent Healthcare were occupied. At the Billings Clinic, between 70% and 90% were occupied.