“They’re lying!” It’s almost a reflex response whenever prisoners expose abusive practices of their keepers. Then come the appeals to prejudice: We’ve been convicted of crimes they say, which implies we simply shouldn’t be believed; as if everybody in Amerika hasn’t run afoul of the law. It’s much the same when cops routinely murder a person of color in Amerika. They throw anything they can find out there to villainize the victim, from claiming s/he was high, or had some past criminal record, or, when all else fails, the implicit race framing – s/he was Black or Brown, so you know they were up to no good anyway.
Well, here’s a bit of documented proof from the prison records itself, confirming the killings of two men by Texas officials that I previously reported on – one of which I personally witnessed.
During 2013 and 2014 I contributed to and wrote several articles on the deaths of two men by Texas prison officials here at the Clements Unit in Amarillo, Texas. They being Christopher Woolverton, who died on October 23, 2013, and Arcade Joseph Comeaux, who died on November 13, 2013.
As I reported, Woolverton was a known asthmatic who, while in an obvious state of medical distress (lying unresponsive for days on his cell floor), was gassed by guards, and died in his cell still lying unresponsive and covered in gas a few hours later. Comeaux, another asthmatic, was left suffering impaired breathing for some time as medical staff and guards looked on, and died as a result.
In one article I described one guard’s comments to a rookie guard who was shaken by witnessing Comeaux’s death, that deaths like these were common at this Unit, and he should get used to seeing them. And he was right. These killings are all too common. I’ve witnessed and heard many credible incidents of killings by methods ranging from guards hanging prisoners and claiming they were suicides, to deliberate withholdings of medical care from prisoners by medical staff. There have been numerous “suspicious” deaths.
When I witnessed Woolverton’s death and heard about Comeaux’s, I knew immediately that they were wrongfully and illegally killed, and that they weren’t isolated incidents. So I went about assembling material facts and witnesses. Most other prisoners felt I was wasting my time and effort, and had resigned themselves to seeing and experiencing such abuses as the norm. They felt powerless to say or do anything that might change or challenge these conditions.
I quickly found that despite the glaring evidence against officials in these killings, there were no legal agencies or attorneys in Texas genuinely willing to take up prisoners’ causes. So I presented what I gathered to one Benjamin Haile, an Oregon attorney whom I’d met and worked with while previously confined in that state. He took immediate interest and, along with others I work with, followed up on leads I gave them and looked further into the incidents with an eye to locating the dead men’s next of kin, and suing responsible officials on their behalves.
What they uncovered corroborated everything I discovered about those killings, and much more. After a bit of struggle, including against attempts by Texas-based lawyers working with a professed civil rights firm to sabotage both lawsuits before they were filed, the next of kin were located (they hadn’t been notified by the prison system of their loved ones’ deaths),as were most of the liable prison and medical officials, and the lawsuits were then filed by the Oregon lawyer in partnership with a couple of Texas attorneys.
So, if it weren’t for a lawyer in another state and a prisoner from another state, the challenge and exposure of these killings would have never occurred. Which shows just how little help Texas prisoners have and how heinous the conditions they live under are.
The complaints in those lawsuits were based almost entirely on Texas Department of Criminal (In)Justice (TDCJ) records and entries by medical staff in the dead men’s prison medical files. So the suits’ facts are based on staff’s own documented admissions.
The treatment of these two men as recorded in those records reads like the records of Nazi Concentration Camp experiments. Woolverton, with severe asthma and the known deadly consequences of gassing him (indeed he was under medical “do not gas” orders for this very reason), was OC gassed at length while he lay in obvious medical distress, and left gas contaminated. This after he’d complained some time before of inability to use a catheter that he required to urinate due to prostate complications, and his suffering from recurrent urinary tract and kidney infections and pain. Comeaux was outright refused basic care he was previously prescribed and diagnosed as needing to breathe as an asthmatic. He was made to suffer continuous breathing complications, asthma attacks, and stabbing cardio pain until his heart could no longer withstand the stress and lack of oxygen and he suffered a severe heart attack and died.
The following accounts of both men’s experiences are taken from the facts as set out in the lawsuits, which as said are based directly on prison and medical records.
When he died on October 23, 2013, Christopher Woolverton was 48 years old. He was a White male who suffered chronic kidney disease, asthma, and mental health disorders. He required a self-inserted catheter to urinate due to prostate problems and experienced chronic urinary tract infections.
From August 29 through October 22, 2013, his weight fell from 157 to 113 pounds. (I personally witnessed this to have resulted at least in part from guards refusing him his meals for days at a time as a routine matter).
Because of his asthma, he was under a “do not gas” order, which was issued most recently by Dr. Judith Thomas during July 2013, and was conveyed to security staff and recorded in his medical file.
Despite this “do not gas” order, on October 7, 2013, Woolverton was sprayed by guards with a large amount of OC gas, and suffered an asthma attack causing him to require emergency medical treatment. He complained of blacking out three times and nearly dying.
From October 8-10, 2013, he complained of being unable to insert his catheter, extreme urinary tract pain, and his belief that he had a kidney infection.
On October 14, 2013, he notified a nurse Debra Killian of his pain and bleeding when urinating. Over the next several days his complaints persisted and he continued to weaken. On the 17th he informed a nurse that he was too weak to get out of bed to exchange his catheter, (I and numerous other prisoners witnessed he was left in this state for days until his death, not accepting his meals or medications and otherwise was unresponsive to any staff).
On October 21, 2013, Nurse James Shook went to his cell for sick call, observed his distress, but did nothing to help him.
Then on October 22nd, a mental health worker Gerald Grant observed Woolverton on two separate occasions in this state and unresponsive. Grant notified medical staff on both occasions. Only then did Killian instruct security staff to bring Woolverton, (who was lying on the floor naked and in a pool of urine), to a medical clinic, stating she didn’t care how they accomplished it. But there was no intent to help him.
Summoned by Killian, a sergeant Andre Gratz went to Woolverton’s cell and told him to come to the cell door to be handcuffed and escorted to the medical clinic. Woolverton was not responsive. A lieutenant Matthew Seymour was called to the area as were the chief Warden Barry Martin, assistant Wardens James Beach and Gregory David, and Major Michael Groover. They all stood around Woolverton’s cell talking for awhile. Gratz and Seymour then had a team of five guards assembled in body armor and gas masks to use force on Woolverton. No one attempted to determine what was wrong with him.
He was again commanded to come to the door, and was still unresponsive. Despite his ”do not gas” order and being in obvious distress, Woolverton was ordered by Gratz to, “Get up or I’m going to gas your ass!”
On audio-video record Woolverton was then sprayed with 3-5 heavy bursts of OC gas, each burst lasting about 5-15 seconds. The gassing lasted several minutes. Finally the armored group of guards rushed into the cell and forcefully restrained him. Woolverton could not stand or walk, so he was carried from the cell to the medical clinic.
He was only looked over briefly by Killian and Dr. Charles Bittle. Neither of them examined him for kidney pains nor urinary tract infections. Killian documented only that there were “no adverse effects from the use of force.” The next day Bittle recorded that Woolverton’s face “was observed to have the liquid of gas on him”. After only ten minutes in the clinic, Woolverton was sent back to the same cell block. At approximately 4:30 pm, still covered in gas, he was placed in a different cell where he was left lying, naked on the floor, and given no further medical evaluation.
Assistant Wardens Beach and David returned to the cell block, looked in at the still unresponsive Woolverton, and asked other prisoners in the area if anyone else “wanted some.”
Only a few hours later at 1:30 am on October 23, 2013, Woolverton was discovered in the same spot on the cell floor not breathing. Medical staff were summoned. CPR was attempted to no avail, and he was pronounced dead by EMS personnel at 1:50 am.
An autopsy performed on October 24, 2013, found Woolverton to have died in a severe condition of medical distress. His lungs were full of congestion and fluid. He had abscesses and infection in his kidneys. His bladder contained “frank puss,” and the medical examiner also noted glomerulorephritis, rephnosutensis, hydronephrosis.
When he died on November 13, 2013, Arcade Joseph Comeaux was 53 years old. He was a New Afrikan/Black male who’d suffered from severe asthma and hypertension at least since 2000, and heart disease since 2008, along with other ailments.
He took several medications, including prescriptions for an albuterol sulfate (albuterol) inhaler and a Qvar inhaler. The albuterol inhaler, when used as prescribed, lasts about 30 days, and can be used up in as little as 25 days. It contains 200 puffs to be used up to 4 times daily. For his hypertension and to prevent congestive heart failure he was prescribed Amlodipine, Enalopril, Maleate, Guanfacine, Hydrochlorothiazide, and Terazosin.
The albuterol relaxes the muscles in the airways and increase air flow to the lungs. It does not treat the inflammation that causes asthma, this is the function of Qvar.
On August 6, 2013, Comreaux wrote a sick call request to have his albuterol renewed, and noted an ongoing problem with someone changing his 30 day albuterol prescription to 90 days.
He was transferred from Clements Unit to the Polunsky Unit in Livingston, Texas on August 19th, and returned to Clements Unit on August 26, 2013. His records showed his vital signs were taken on August 27th, but not again until October 31, 2013, despite his repeated complaints of breathing problems.
Comeaux filed a sick call request on August 26, 2013, because his albuterol prescription expired on August 15th, and he needed it reordered and renewed every 30 days as it was before his transfer. On August 28th a nurse Tammy Williams responded, “albuterol is ordered x 30 days.” However, on August 29th Comeaux saw Dr. Charles Bittle and nurse Martine Brown, at that time Dr. Bittle changed the albuterol prescription to 90 days, with no refills. Comeaux still did not receive an inhaler.
He made another request on September 1, 2013, stating again that his prior inhaler expired on August 15th and he needed a new one every 30 days. He received an inhaler on September 4th and wrote again that same day for a refill every 30 days, and again asked Nurse Brown for this when he saw her on September 5th. She wrote in his medical file that he was being scheduled to see the doctor, but did not schedule him.
Numerous sick call requests were missing from his file, which were referred to in subsequent records by medical staff and Comeaux.
On September 9th he wrote another request to have his inhaler refilled every 30 days, and complained that each time he received a 30 day prescription it was changed to 90 days, although the inhaler, when used as directed, lasted no longer than 30 days.
He filed yet another request on September 17th about his inhaler prescription still not being corrected. Nurse Williams responded on September 19th that he was scheduled to see a doctor. Nothing was done. He followed up with similar requests on September 23rd, 27th, and October 8th. Each time nurse Williams responded that he was scheduled to see the doctor, yet he was never seen.
Then on October 23, 2013, he wrote a request notifying medical staff that his inhaler was empty. He was having frequent asthma attacks, labored breathing, whistling lungs, and was suffering chest pains. He complained that he’d be dead but for other prisoners allowing him to use their own inhalers. He also complained of being scheduled for two months to see the doctor but not being seen. He was only told in response that he was scheduled to see the doctor.
A nurse saw him briefly on October 25th and noted that he was not having an asthma attack at that time, and told him if he had breathing problems to contact medical staff.
On October 29th he filed a grievance complaining of an asthma attack. Other grievances were also filed about his suffering two months without treatment for his asthma. In one of them he complained that Lt. Matthew Seymour, who is White, remarked, “fuck that piece of nigger shit and let him die,” and left him unable to breathe and suffering an asthma attack in his cell. Seymour, he complained, had just escorted him past a nurse and nurse’s station but refused to allow him to see a nurse. In his grievance he stated, “my heart beat so fast,” and “a sharp pain hit my heart.” That he “was dying,” and if other prisoners had not got him one of their inhalers he “would have died.” No nurse was summoned.
On October 30, 2013, Comeaux was seen by a mental health worker Gerald Granat, who wrote in his notes that Comeaux showed no mental health problems, but went into a “lengthy tirade” about ”needing his inhaler renewed, having his property confiscated and having an asthma attack.” Granat notified medical staff about Comeaux’s complaints.
On that same day Comeaux filed another sick call request complaining of breathing difficulties and noted that a nurse came but did not check his vital signs, nor listen to his lungs, and left without providing him an inhaler. As of that date his prescription had not been changed, and the one inhaler he was given on September 4th with no refills had run out long ago.
The next day he filed another grievance, complaining of having been without an inhaler since October 7th, and having put in over 20 sick call requests to receive an inhaler since he last saw a nurse. He complained that on October 31st as he was suffering an asthma attack, nurse Linda Simmons came to his cell and only told him that she would see if she could order him an inhaler and would “see what she can do.” She did not examine him nor provide him any treatment for his asthma attack. He complained of inability to cough up fluid in his lungs, writing, “I’m going to die, my heart is beating so hard it’s like someone hitting me with a medical hammer.”
He was seen by a doctor later that day for the first time since August 29th, and prescribed a refill of his albuterol inhaler for 30 days with no refills. On November 5, 2013, he sent in a sick call request to have his Qvar inhaler which had run out refilled. He hadn’t received Qvar since its most recent prescription had expired on August 19, 2013. The prescription was never refilled before he died.
On November 12th, the day before he died, Comeaux filed a sick call request complaining of suffering from severe asthma. He complained of being unable to blow his nose or cough up phlegm. He complained that his inhaler wasn’t helping and he needed breathing treatment and a shot of Prednisone. He wrote, “When I cough my body go (sic) numb with needle pricks. My chest is tight, my lungs whistle, I’m fatigue (sic), tired and sleepy all the time. I can’t get sufficient air in my lungs.” Nurse Williams replied that he was scheduled to see the doctor for asthma. He was given no treatment.
On November 13th, 2013, several prisoners summoned help for Comeaux who was suffering an asthma attack. Nurse Simmons responded. According to witnesses, she remarked that “he didn’t need to breathe,” and was “fine.” Medical staff and guards left him lying on the floor in distress for over an hour before finally taking him to the medical clinic in a wheelchair.
His breathing distress caused him to wheeze loudly and he could not speak. When he arrived in the medical area, he was given a large dose of Atrovent for asthma. While his breathing began to improve he began complaining of chest pains and broke out in a cold sweat. An electrocardiogram (ECG) was ordered and when he attempted to move from the wheelchair to the ECG bed, he convulsed and began to panic. He then collapsed to the floor and died within ten minutes of arriving at the clinic.
His inability to breathe caused his blood oxygen level to become perilously low. The consequent stress on his heart, a high heart rate, and the attendant anxiety combined to cause him to suffer a heart attack and die.
On November 15, 2013 an autopsy found both his lungs were over inflated with congestion and a large amount of frothy fluid. His cause of death was reported as sudden heart attack due to ischemic heart disease.
There can be no doubt that Woolverton and Comeaux were outright denied the most basic and obvious care that their known and complained of chronic illnesses demanded, by the very people charged by profession to provide that care. Even when these men were in obvious distress and on their literal death beds, staff persisted in leaving them to suffer until they died in agony.
What is most disturbing is the responsible officials were so comfortable in what they were doing and so certain that they couldn’t possibly be held responsible or liable that they maintained records of what they were doing. And some of them still work at this Unit as I write this.
This is how Amerika treats people of color, the poor, and the mentally ill; who are the principal targets of U.S. mass imprisonment. This is the real Amerika that the “good Amerikans” (like the “good Germans’’ of the Nazi era) don’t see and don’t want to see. But it’s in black and white, just like the artificial racial divide that plays so prominently in the choice of who suffers and who doesn’t. So, who’s lying now?
Dare to Struggle Dare to Win!
All Power to the People!
 1. These two lawsuits were brought in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, in Amarillo, cases styled, Christopher Thomas Woolverton v. Texas Department of Criminal Justice, et al., Case no. 2:15-CV-00314-J; and Thomas Comeaux v. Dr. Charles Bittle, et al., Case no. 2:15-CV-00332-J.
 Woolverton was a prisoner who suffered obvious mental health problems which prompted extensive abuses from staff and other prisoners. I’ve previously written about the treatments that such prisoners suffer in solitary confinement in response to their conditions which are often the results of the mentally deteriorating conditions of solitary. Such abuses often include guards starving these prisoners for days to weeks on end. See my articles, “Wasted Minds: An Insider’s Look at the Torturous Effects of U.S. Solitary Confinement” ( 2013) , http://rashidmod.com/?p=899, and “We Cannot Live by Bread Alone: Texas Abuses Prisoners With Denied Food and Bread and Water Diets” (2015), http://rashidmod.com /?p=1167.
 Studies have established that OC gas or pepper spray as it is euphemistically known, causes fatal complications for people suffering from respiratory conditions such as asthma. See, e.g., Deborah Blum, “About Pepper Spray,” Socialist Viewpoint (Jan/Feb 2012), pp 21-22, www.socialistviewpoint.org
 For my earlier articles and contributions to articles on Woolverton’s and Comeaux’s deaths, see, “Asthmatic Prisoner Doused with Pepper Spray, Refused Medical Care, Dies: Just Another Day in the Texas Prison System” (2013) http://rashidmod.com/?p=917, “Texas Prison Officials and Medical Staff Kill Prisoners and Move to Silence Witnesses” (2014), http://rashidmod.com/?p=966, and “Pages from the ‘Pig Playbook’: Reading #1 – Scapegoating ‘Bad Apples’” (2014), http://rashidmod.com/?p=989.