State pays out $250K to inmate for neglect of Monroe prison injury

Harold Lang hurt his leg playing basketball at the prison. He claimed poor medical care caused him to re-injure it two more times.

Harold Lang

Harold Lang

MONROE — The state has agreed to pay $250,000 to a former inmate who accused Monroe prison officials of neglecting to treat a debilitating knee injury he suffered there.

In November 2019, Harold Lang Jr., a prisoner at the Monroe Correctional Complex’s Twin Rivers Unit, tore his ACL during a basketball game at the prison. Lang blamed the medical care he received behind bars for how much worse his injury became.

Lang, 34, sued the state, as well as medical providers Dr. Kenneth Sawyer and nurse Marquetta Washington. Lang settled with the state in July, then privately settled with the nurse in late 2023. Her lawyer did not respond to a request for comment.

As part of the agreement, the state did not admit any liability for Lang’s injury and care.

“The liability to me was crystal clear,” said Lang’s attorney, Darryl Parker, of the Seattle-based Civil Rights Justice Center. “I don’t think they would have paid out $250,000 if they didn’t do anything wrong.”

Lang was in prison on a first-degree robbery conviction. He injured his knee in the semifinals of the prison basketball tournament. They played on a concrete floor. Lang went up for a rebound, but when he came down, his knee gave out, he shared in a previous interview with the Daily Herald.

Lang tried to navigate the prison health care system. He experienced numerous obstacles: doctors, paperwork and general limitations about what providers would do for him, the complaint said.

After the tournament, Lang visited the doctor and learned he likely had torn his ACL. A nurse requested an X-ray instead of an MRI. Medical providers gave him crutches, Tylenol and an elastic bandage, according to medical files.

As part of his treatment, doctors gave Lang a list of exercises to do on his own.

Lang said he injured his knee twice more due to neglect from medical staff. Between December 2019 and July 2020, Lang filed 18 grievances against the prison medical clinic over what he considered inadequate care.

While rehabbing his knee on the basketball court, the only place he could work out, Lang felt his knee “blew up.” A doctor diagnosed Lang with a torn meniscus. Again, after meeting with nurses at the prison, they did not grant Lang an MRI. Nurses gave Tylenol to Lang, and told him to follow the “R.I.C.E.” method of rest, ice, compression and elevation, the complaint said.

Lang suffered another injury to his knee while trying to walk down the stairs. He was taken to Evergreen hospital in Monroe, where doctors told him he needed to talk with an orthopedic surgeon. Getting an MRI and an orthopedic surgery consult were deemed “not medically necessary” by the prison Care Review Committee. The prison gave him a wheelchair and told him to stick to his same treatment plan, according to court documents.

After two months of having to go up and down the stairs in a wheelchair, a concerned corrections officer noticed Lang struggling and decided to do something about his living arrangement, going on his behalf to help him switch units and getting Lang a bunk on the bottom floor, he said.

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)

In May 2020, Lang finally received an orthopedic consult with an outside provider and received an MRI, confirming the ACL tear and a bucket handle tearing of the meniscus: a serious injury that occurs when the meniscus separates and becomes displaced. A month later, he underwent surgery for his torn meniscus. About 70% of his meniscus was so badly damaged it had to be removed.

The surgeon told him he couldn’t perform the surgery for his torn ACL until he received physical therapy treatment. The doctor told him he needed to do physical rehabilitation twice a week, according to the lawsuit. Corrections refused to allow him treatment more than once a week.

Lang did not have surgery for his torn ACL until October 2020, almost a year after his initial injury.

Parker said it’s not uncommon for Washington prisons to choose conservative options for serious injuries.

“In general if someone tears a ligament, or they have a torn ACL or torn (MCL), the state won’t perform surgery,” Parker said. “The problem was they assumed that all he had was a torn ACL, when in fact he had a ‘bucket handle’ tear of the meniscus, and you cannot wait on that type of injury because it’s going to get worse. And it got worse.”

A Corrections spokesperson declined to comment on the outcome of the case.

Lang was released in March 2021. In his previous interview with The Herald, he described how difficult it was to find and keep a job with his injury and a criminal record.

“I was going to get out and work, and work, work, work, and try to build a life and focus on never coming back here,” he said in 2021. “Now, it’s not that at all.”

Parker said Lang’s knee is “not right” and he was still complaining about it.

In September 2022, Lang was sentenced to two years in prison for second-degree theft and fourth-degree assault in Kittitas County.

On Tuesday, Lang was incarcerated at the Monroe prison, with a release date scheduled for later this month, according to the Department of Corrections.

Jonathan Tall: 425-339-3486; jonathan.tall@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @snocojon.

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