Documents raise new questions about death of mentally ill inmate

More than 4,000 pages of documents are raising new questions surrounding the death of a mentally-ill inmate.

More than 4,000 pages of documents are raising new questions surrounding the death of a mentally-ill inmate.

A previous Local 10 investigation revealed Randy Heath, 39, weighed close to 200 pounds when he was arrested last fall. Heath’s autopsy revealed he weighed almost half that when he died last July at the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center.

“Situations like this, very rarely, are one-offs,” said attorney Christopher Caproni. “More often than not, they are evidence of a deeper, systemic problem, and that problem is how people with mental health and psychiatric issues are treated in the correctional system.”

Caproni now represents Heath’s family. He reviewed more than 4,300 pages of medical records from Heath’s time at TGK.

Local 10 also reviewed those records from Jackson Health System, including notes from nurses, psychiatrists and social workers making their daily rounds.

“[Randy] goes in, where he’s able to communicate,” Caproni said. “Obviously, he has challenges, but he’s able to bathe himself, he’s able to shave, he’s able to communicate with the guards. Towards the end, you see a really harrowing picture of a shell of a person.”

Heath was bipolar and schizophrenic. He was regularly prescribed medication for his mental illnesses, but his toxicology report revealed no medications were detected in his body at the time of his death.

The medical examiner determined Heath died from “food asphyxia” after a large piece of orange was found blocking his airway. Pica -- a disorder which causes people to eat things other than food -- was determined to be the contributing cause. Bits of plastic and bandages were found in Heath’s stomach. But our review of the medical records provided to us by his family and family’s attorney revealed no mention of pica.

An entry from March 2021 noted Heath was “eating, but look[ed] like he lost a lot of weight.”

Medical staff also noted his decreasing BMI multiple times.

Despite jail medical staff encouraging him, time and again, to take his medication, Heath refused, the documents stated.

“What we see is a, sort of, acceptance that Randy is not going to be taking his medication, and hasn’t been taking it for some time,” Caproni said.

Heath’s medications were eventually discontinued. He also spent a majority of his time under what’s called, “Level of Care 1.”

“That’s the highest, most restrictive level of care that provides the most protection for inmates who may be harmful to themselves, or others,” Caproni said.

As the weeks and months go by, Heath’s condition deteriorated. He refused to participate in many of his evaluations. His hygiene became poor. At times, he was found naked and mute in his cell.

“I think that if a person is unable to get up off of the floor, and they’re lying for hours at a time in their own urine, or feces, that is a red flag that says, ‘Hey, we might need to take an extra step here,’” Caproni said.

Jail medical staff did take extra steps in June 2021, about a month before Heath was found unresponsive in his cell. His low weight and noted history of “microlithiasis”-- calcium building up in his testicals -- prompted his admittance to the infirmary for “intramuscular meds.” A CT scan was ordered noting the possibility of cancer. He was monitored in the weeks that followed.

On July 18, 2021, Heath was found unresponsive in his cell.

In his autopsy, the medical examiner made no mention of any abnormal growths.

Caproni said based upon his review of the documents, there is no indication Heath was taken to an actual hospital.

Jackson Health System provides medical care for inmates at TGK.

When Local 10 reached out for a response to our questions, a health system spokesperson deferred us to a corrections department spokesperson who sent us a statement, saying, “In keeping with our mission, MDCR is firmly committed to providing a safe, secure, and humane detention of all individuals in our custody, to include our commitment to the health and well-being of all those in our care. MDCR would like to extend our condolences to the Heath family. Our review of the circumstances surrounding this incident remains ongoing, to include a full internal investigation. Consistent with all investigations, no further comment will be made at this time.”

About the Author:

Layron Livingston made the move from Ohio's Miami Valley to Miami, Florida, to join the Local 10 News team.