Pennsylvania Epileptic woman sues jail over treatment, slur Woman faces charges of aggravated harassment, terroristic threats

By Joe Mandak

Associated Press

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- A black epileptic woman contends three white male western Pennsylvania guards violated her rights when she was allegedly denied medicine, causing a seizure during which a guard allegedly broke her shoulder and later used a racial slur that referenced President Barack Obama.

Tonja Jackson, 40, said in a federal lawsuit filed late Wednesday that guard told her, "Just because Obama is president, don't mean you're still not a (slur)."

Allegheny County spokesman Kevin Evanto said Thursday officials don't comment on litigation and that the guards, like all other county employees, "are instructed not to speak to the media."

Jackson is seeking unspecified damages in the 11-page lawsuit against the county, Warden Ramon Rustin, three guards, and a county police officer who investigated the incidents following her arrest on a bad check charge in late January 2009.

Online court records show Jackson has a long arrest record for crimes ranging from prostitution to robbery. She is awaiting trial on charges of aggravated harassment and terroristic threats for allegedly spitting at a guard and threatening to smack one in the face during the events in question.

Her lawyer, Susan Mahood, claims those charges are based on "false and misleading information" and were allegedly filed to deflect attention from the guards' alleged misconduct.

Mahood, for example, told The Associated Press on Thursday that Jackson didn't spit on a guard and if one was hit with saliva, it was the result of Jackson's involuntary movements during a seizure.

The lawsuit contends Jackson's anti-seizure medication, Dilantin, was confiscated at the jail after her arrest on Jan. 29, 2009, and that she was denied the daily medication for a week even though jail officials knew she had epilepsy.

On Feb. 6, Jackson told a guard she was experiencing "auras," or symptoms that often precede a seizure. The guard told Jackson it wasn't "medication time" and refused to call a nurse, and a supervising sergeant -- also being sued -- similarly refused, and ordered her to return to her cell.

Jackson then told the sergeant that "if she was going to die from lack of medication, she would do it on the spot in front of the (surveillance) camera, rather than alone in her cell," the lawsuit said.

That led the sergeant to summon others guards who handcuffed Jackson and took her to another area where a jail captain allegedly threatened to use a stun gun on her if she made a "wrong move." After Jackson said that device could kill her given her medical condition, officials transferred her to a mental health unit and led her past the guard who initially refused her medication -- who then allegedly made the Obama-related slur.

At that point, Jackson contends she suffered a seizure which the first guard responded to by "assaulting" during which her shoulder was broken. She contends she was denied the seizure medicine for several more hours, during which time she claims to have suffered another 14 seizures, before she was taken to a hospital for shoulder surgery.

Afterward, she was handcuffed to her hospital bed by a guard who refused to allow her to contact her family during her six-day stay, the lawsuit contends.

The lawsuit said the jail had female guards who could have tended to Jackson, but instead kept the male guard on duty who had to loose her from the bed whenever she needed to use the rest room. Doctors "ejected" the guard from her room by the third day of her hospital stay, so he sat outside her room thereafter, the lawsuit said.

The fourth officer sued is a county police officer who took statements from the three defendant guards. But Mahood contends those statements allegedly didn't detail Jackson's injuries, or give a full accounting of the facts.

Jackson contends the guards were never disciplined for their alleged wrongdoing, and instead the police officer filed criminal charges against her based on the allegedly false information they supplied, she said.

Published: Mon, Jan 3, 2011