A diabetic inmate serving a life sentence for murder has won $550,000 from Georgia for a lawsuit alleging he lost his leg because of improper care and neglect by a prison doctor.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports the state agreed to the settlement for Michael Tarver, which means the case against Dr. Chiquita Fye, the medical director at Macon State Prison, won’t go to trial Monday. It also ends a legal proceeding that began three years ago with a lawsuit written in longhand and filed without the aid of an attorney.
Tarver’s federal lawsuit asserted that Fye was deliberately indifferent to his injury as he languished for months in the prison infirmary. Deliberate indifference to a prison inmate’s medical needs violates the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
U.S. District Judge Marc T. Treadwell earlier this week signed off on the settlement order. The case was scheduled for trial Monday in Treadwell’s court in Macon.
The amount of the settlement was disclosed to the newspaper by Mike Brown, an Augusta attorney who began representing Tarver when the case entered the discovery phase. Brown said Tarver, who is 55 and serving a sentence of life without parole for the 1994 murder of a Columbus convenience store clerk, plans to distribute a “good portion” of the money to his family.
Fye, 65, has been the medical director at the prison since 2006, making her one of the longest-tenured physicians working for Georgia Correctional HealthCare, the branch of Augusta University that provides medical services for the Department of Corrections.
Despite the settlement, Georgia Correctional HealthCare stands behind Fye, a university spokeswoman said. Christen Engel, the school’s associate vice president for communications, said that conclusion was reached after what the university believes was an extensive review of Fye’s conduct.
“GCHC human resources professionals interviewed providers at Macon State Prison and found that Dr. Fye continually exhibits professionalism and sound judgment when caring for her patients,” Engel wrote in an email.
Engel added that the organization is taking steps to improve wound care education for all its providers.
Fye still faces another potential trial in federal court stemming from a lawsuit in which she is accused of failing to ensure the safety of a man who was abruptly cut off from his prescribed daily dose of the anti-anxiety drug Xanax. The man, William Stoner, ultimately suffered a seizure and had to be transported by helicopter to a hospital for treatment.
Tarver’s amputation and Stoner’s seizure were among the issues detailed by the newspaper last month in a story in which six former health care workers at the prison questioned Fye’s care of inmates. In depositions and interviews, the six said Fye’s disdain for criminals at times caused her to withhold vital treatment when she believed inmates were faking or otherwise trying to take advantage.
Tarver’s leg was amputated above the knee in November 2012, six months after he slipped and fell on a wet floor in the prison kitchen, opening a dime-size cut above his ankle. As a diabetic, Tarver was particularly vulnerable to infection, but evidence indicated that the wound was allowed to become dangerously toxic even as he was under observation in the infirmary.
One former prison nurse said in a deposition that the wound became so foul-smelling that the odor was noticeable outside Tarver’s room. Another testified she had informed Fye that tissue within the wound had turned black, but the doctor didn’t respond.
Fye testified that she did not notice the smell or the black tissue. She further argued that her treatment was adequate because she twice prescribed antibiotics for Tarver and had him admitted at one point to a local emergency room.
Evidence developed by Brown showed that some of Tarver’s medical records are missing, including an order for a wound consultation that a former physician assistant testified she wrote when Fye wouldn’t do one.
Brown said Tarver, now incarcerated at Augusta State Medical Prison, has a prosthetic leg but mostly gets around using a wheelchair.
Fye’s issues mark the second time in the last two years that Georgia Correctional HealthCare has been forced to deal with questions regarding one of its doctors.
In 2015, the organization fired Dr. Yvon Nazaire after the newspaper revealed how nine women had died in his care under questionable circumstances at Pulaski State Prison and Emanuel Women’s Facility.