Prisoner at Ely Denied Surgery – Now Barely Able to Walk

ACLU NV:

Submitted by Rahul Sharma on Thu, 03/10/2011

On March 5th, the ACLU of Nevada submitted a friend -of-the-court brief in support of John Snow, an elderly man at Ely State Prison who has been repeatedly denied hip surgery, and who, as a result, is now barely able to walk and has severely damaged kidneys.

In September of 2006, Mr. Snow saw an orthopedist retained by the Nevada Department of Corrections (NDOC), who diagnosed him with severe degenerative arthritis of the hips. Four months later, at a follow-up appointment, the orthopedist wrote that Mr. Snow could “barely walk” and that “[t]here is no option here other than surgery for relief.” NDOC denied surgery at least three times, despite urgent recommendations and a finding that the medications Mr. Snow needs to manage his hip pain are toxic to his kidneys. As of this date, Mr. Snow still has not had surgery.

In January of 2008, Mr. Snow filed a lawsuit alleging, among other things, that NDOC officials had been deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs, in violation of the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. In preparations for trial, a former nurse at the prison testified that one doctor said of Mr. Snow, “This guy’s an asshole. I’m not going to treat him.” Evidence also showed that in response to one of Mr. Snow’s medical requests, a physician’s assistant wrote that he was “gonna let [Mr. Snow] suffer.” (The physician’s assistant now asserts that his response to Mr. Snow was meant to be “tongue-in-cheek.”)

The ACLU of Nevada argues in its brief that Mr. Snow’s case should be allowed to go to trial, as there is ample evidence for a jury to find that prison officials were deliberately indifferent to his medical needs.
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Unfortunately, Mr. Snow’s circumstance is only a symptom of the prison crisis recently discussed in our report, Not Fit for Human Consumption or Habitation: Nevada’s Prisons in Crisis. Medical care at Ely State Prison, the same prison in Mr. Snow’s case, was also the subject of a 2008 class action lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Nevada and the ACLU’s National Prison Project. The lawsuit charged that a pattern of grossly inadequate medical care at the facility created a substantial risk of serious harm for every prisoner incarcerated there.

The ACLU of Nevada hopes Mr. Snow can find redress in the courts for the inhumane treatment he has suffered. It also hopes that NDOC and the Nevada Legislature will work to keep future cases like this from happening.

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