The Monroe Correctional Complex on Thursday, April 9, 2020. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

The Monroe Correctional Complex on Thursday, April 9, 2020. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Lawsuit: Monroe prison neglected to care for back injury for 2 years

After he finally got an MRI, Jose Gomez’s back was injured again on the drive returning to the Monroe prison, a new lawsuit says.

EVERETT — A Monroe prisoner is suing the state Department of Corrections, alleging prison staff exacerbated his back injury by slamming a cell door on him and neglecting his injuries for years.

In June 2020, Jose Gomez was being escorted into his cell by staff in the Washington Corrections Center in Shelton. Gomez had a previous back injury that required surgery, leaving him only able to walk short distances, according to the lawsuit filed in Snohomish County Superior Court.

Officers closed the cell door on him, according to court documents. This “severely exacerbated” his symptoms, leaving him unable to walk due to pain and numbness in his legs, the documents said.

Gomez was given a wheelchair and transferred to the Monroe Correctional Complex. The inmate filed “numerous grievances” to the prison medical staff seeking treatment. He also requested an MRI, according to the lawsuit.

Medical staff made appointments for the MRI, court papers said. But staff made “numerous errors” in scheduling it, and Gomez would have to start the grievance process over again with each error. It took two years for Gomez to receive the MRI, according to the lawsuit.

“It is not DOC policy to comment on any past, current, pending, or future litigation,” Monroe prison spokesperson Kristi Webb said.

After the MRI appointment in September 2022, correctional staff failed to properly secure Gomez in the transport car on the way back to the Monroe facility, his lawyer wrote. During the transport, the driver accelerated quickly, and Gomez’s wheelchair fell over backwards, according to the lawsuit.

Gomez suffered injuries to his head and neck, and exacerbated his lower back injury, the lawsuit alleges. He also experienced concussion symptoms, such as headaches, nausea, dizziness and recurring bloody noses, according to the lawsuit. He also suffered pain in his neck and arms.

Despite the injury, transport officers drove him back to the prison, according to the allegations. The officers were instructed by Monroe prison staff to take Gomez back to the hospital.

Doctors at EvergreenHealth in Monroe recommended Gomez be seen by a neurologist, but the Monroe prison had still failed to provide the prisoner with one as of Thursday, court documents said.

According to the lawsuit, Corrections failed to “properly pursue diagnoses” or treat Gomez’s medical issues. His lawyers claim the state negligently hired, trained, supervised and monitored its staff to prevent incidents like this from happening.

In April 2019, the prison’s top doctor, Julia Barnett, was fired by the state Department of Corrections after an internal probe discovered six prisoners, including three who died, suffered because of inadequate care she provided or supervised. The state Medical Commission suspended her license indefinitely.

A few months later, Kenny Williams, another Monroe prisoner, died of breast cancer that spread to his bones. Williams was scheduled to be released from prison in six months, with time off for good behavior. He was 63.

According to a wrongful-death lawsuit, he received no treatment for his cancer for over a year. If he had received chemotherapy, as recommended by an oncologist in 2018, he likely would have lived to his release date. The state paid $3.75 million to his family in February 2022.

In a 2021 lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle, Harold Lang Jr., a former prisoner at the Monroe Correctional Complex, said mistreatment at the facility turned his torn ACL and meniscus into a life sentence.

He initially injured his knee in a prison basketball tournament in November 2019. The concrete floor of the gym was hard to play on, and when he came down after grabbing a rebound, his knee gave out, he said.

As Lang tried to navigate the prison health care system, he injured his knee two more times due to neglect from medical providers at the prison, the lawsuit claimed.

He visited the doctor and learned he likely tore his ACL. The Care Review Committee deemed an MRI and orthopedic surgery “not medically necessary” — the tear would have to heal on its own, court documents said.

He finally underwent surgery in June 2020.

Jonathan Tall: 425-339-3486;; Twitter: @EDHJonTall.

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