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Family of man who died in Baton Rouge jail files suit claiming neglect in care

The Advocate - 6/7/2024

Jun. 7—Kaddarrius Marquise Cage had never seen the inside of a jail cell before he was arrested for stabbing his stepfather, family members said Thursday.

They say a lack of proper care at the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison contributed to his eventual death by suicide, and they have filed a federal lawsuit that supporters hope will lead to improved care for other inmates with mental health conditions.

The 28-year-old Baton Rouge man spent all of his adult life suffering from severe mental illness, the lawsuit says. He was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress and bipolar disorders at the age of 18.

It was a condition that occasionally caused him to hallucinate, hear voices and see things that weren't actually there.

East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff's deputies were familiar with Cage's condition, the lawsuit says. Officers had been to his family residence in the leafy Airline Acres neighborhood multiple times, responding to manic episodes and bouts of his psychosis.

Loved ones, fearing that he was a danger to himself, wanted Cage committed to a mental health facility to be treated on a long-term basis.

But when Cage stabbed his stepfather four times while hallucinating in May 2023, deputies no longer felt safe having him admitted to an inpatient treatment center as they had done in the past. Instead, he was arrested and booked into the parish prison on a count of attempted second-degree murder.

He remained housed in isolation for 12 days in a wing designated for inmates with severe mental illness or deemed, during intake screenings, to be suicidal. For nearly two weeks, according to the lawsuit, the jail's staff deprived Cage of his antipsychotic medications despite pleas from him and loved ones who insisted he was in the throes of a mental crisis and needed the "powerful" mix of pills and injections to stave off the inner voices and delusions.

Cage was found dead in his cell on the morning of May 31, 2023. His family says corrections officers and medical staff failed to follow procedures for inmates with psychological issues.

Cage's mother, Kimberly Cage, believes her son remained in a disoriented state without his five prescribed antipsychotics the entire time he was locked up. She said jailers should have done more to help Kaddarrius when they recognized the obvious signs of his mental crisis.

"They just didn't care. That's what it boils down to," she said Thursday. "They dropped the ball on my son. But I'm not going to let them drop the ball on somebody else's son."

'Justice needs to be served'

On Thursday morning, Kimberly Cage sat inside a Baton Rouge law office beside her son's former wife, Kenyetta Ricard, who filed the wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of their 10-year-old daughter. Describing him as a "great dad" who was stripped from her daughter's life forever due to the jail's inaction, Ricard said the lawsuit represents a quest for justice for her family.

"I know the neglect, the carelessness and the empathy that they lacked was the cause of this," Ricard said. "It's pretty much unacceptable because at the end of the day ... you didn't do your job. I think justice needs to be served."

In the complaint, originally filed May 29 in the U.S. Middle District Court of Louisiana, she is suing East Baton Rouge Sheriff Sid Gautreaux, then-Warden Dennis Grimes, corrections officers, deputies and the jail's security chief, Capt. Leonard Harris. The city-parish and Turn Key Health Clinics are also listed as defendants.

In late 2021, Metro Council members signed off on a $6 million annual contract with the Oklahoma-based private health care company to provide mental health and medical services to inmates. Four Turnkey nurses, social workers, counselors and intake screeners were named individually as defendants in a revamped version of the lawsuit filed May 31.

The parish attorney's office declined to comment on the pending litigation Thursday, and a Sheriff's Office spokesperson said the agency plays no role in inmates' health care. Turn Key officials touted the company's mental health services as a "critical part of the care" it provides at detention facilities.

"We are proud of our front-line health care providers who work daily to provide care in the challenging correctional environment," company attorney Austin Young said in a statement. "We take every claim seriously, and we will continue to do so as this matter goes through the litigation process."

Mental health crisis behind bars

Attorneys for Kaddarrius' surviving relatives say he had two visual hallucinations that his stepfather tried to molest him on May 19, 2023. He later told sheriff's deputies the stepfather attacked his little brother and mother. None of the claims were corroborated by anyone else.

But convinced that his stepfather was a threat, an enraged Kaddarrius waited until the man went to sleep, then climbed atop him and stabbed him four times in the head, according to an arrest report. The stab thrusts were so forceful they left the knife's blade lodged in the victim's skull and lacerated an artery in his head, deputies said.

The man was critically wounded but survived the attack. Kimberly Cage told arresting officers she had concerns about Kaddarrius' erratic behavior prior to the stabbing, and family members wanted a physician emergency certificate issued so he could be permanently committed to a mental hospital due to his schizophrenia. She said he hallucinated and made things up in his head, to the point that family had to hide weapons in the house as a precaution.

Records showed Kaddarrius' manic behavior continued even as he was questioned by deputies at Sheriff's Office headquarters. He told officers "they've been raping people in the neighborhood" and showed other obvious signs of delusion.

When he was being booked into the jail, Kaddarrius told an intake screening worker for Turn Key that he was hearing voices and had paranoid schizophrenia. He informed the worker and filled out forms indicating he had prescribed medications and had been admitted to a mental health facility as recently as one month before, the lawsuit states.

He also had a large knot on his forehead that he couldn't account for, reported being sexually abused recently, and intake officers found blood in his shorts, according to the federal complaint.

Concerned that he might harm himself, Kimberly Cage called Detective William Bankston — the sheriff's deputy who made the arrest — after Kaddarrius was booked into the jail. She said Bankston assured her Kaddarrius would placed on suicide watch while in jail.

But Sheriff's Office attorneys denied he was on mental health observation or suicide watch at the time of his death, the lawsuit indicates.

Plaintiff attorney Joe Long said Kaddarrius was instead housed in solitary confinement for days without his meds in a "dark, corrupt, decrepit part of the prison."

"Unfortunately, he is not the first person to hang himself in these conditions," Long said. "We have a crisis at the jail. The mental health component of the jail is nonexistent."

Linda Franks, a founding member of the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison Reform Coalition, called the Baton Rouge jail one of the deadliest pretrial detention centers in the world. Her 27-year-old son, Lamar Alexander Johnson, died while in custody there in 2015. According to the watchdog group, more than 60 inmates have died inside the jail's confines since local advocates began keeping tally in 2012.

"My prayer is that this suit, first and foremost, will provide Kaddarrius' loved ones with the justice and validation that they seek and deserve. And also that it will stand as yet another witness to the incompetence or either complicity of those who have been in charge," Franks said.

The pain and loss still linger for Kimberly Cage. She said jailers were rude, at times hanging up on her, when she called to check on her son and make sure he was getting the medications she knew he needed.

It wasn't until he had been in lockup for 11 days that a nurse finally told her she could bring his meds to the jail herself. By the time she made it there the next morning, Kaddarrius was already dead.

"The biggest thing I suffer through every day in my mind is I know my son was asking for help," she said. "To be his mother, knowing that my son was tortured — to not be medicated when he was asking for help and did not receive it — I suffer and I grieve over that every day. He didn't have to die like that. Nobody should die like that."


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