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The University Star

The Student News Site of Texas State University

The University Star

The Student News Site of Texas State University

The University Star

Hays County inmate speaks out on poor medical conditions

Sophie Pickerrell

More than a year after inmates and advocates previously spoke out about poor conditions in the jail in 2023, inmates are reporting no improvement.

Inmate Mark Suniga, who is currently detained pretrial on a charge of indecency with a child, is facing the possible amputation of a foot due to what he claims is medical neglect from the Hays County Jail staff.

“[The jail] never addressed the problem or tried to resolve it at all. They just ignored me and closed my [greviance] tickets.” Suniga said.

Suniga was arrested on March 17, 2023. According to Suniga’s fiancée Belinda Rodriguez, Suniga has diabetes-related nerve damage and broke his foot three days after his arrest when trying to get off his bunk.

“He asked not to be put on the top bunk because he already had to amputate his toes,” Rodriguez said.

According to Rodriguez, jail medical staff initially told Suniga his foot was fine, only to later have pieces of his bone pierce through his skin. Suniga was then rushed to the hospital for surgery and had screws placed in his foot.

After the surgery, Suniga was placed in a medical cell. Rodriguez said the cell had no light, which made Suniga trip in the middle of the night, causing his screws to shift.

Rodriguez said several weeks after his second injury, Suniga was taken to see a doctor who said a second surgery was necessary. The surgeon was willing to do the surgery but never heard anything from the jail about scheduling it after the initial appointment, Rodriguez said.

“As far as I know, one of the guards told [Suniga] ‘Well they said that the doctor that was going to do your surgery was too expensive’,” Rodriguez said. “Nobody was answering me, so I ended up calling the doctors myself. [They said] ‘We’re all waiting for [Suniga] to come [for the surgery] we haven’t heard anything.'”

Rodriguez said after several months Suniga was taken to another doctor for a second opinion. The second doctor said due to the long delay between Suniga’s screws shifting and seeking treatment, surgery could result in a bone infection and eventually amputation of his foot.

Suniga and Rodriguez reported other issues, such as Suniga receiving insulin injections in the dark, getting the wrong medications and grievance complaint forms vanishing from Suniga’s tablet.

“[The nurses] can’t see anything at night. They have to flash the light because there is no light in the cell,” Rodriguez said. “They use a blue light flashlight and they’ll just eyeball his insulin.”

Suniga and Rodriguez also reported being denied access to Suniga’s medical complaints. The University Star received documents from Suniga that show Wellpath, the medical contractor used in the Hays County Jail, has a policy of not releasing medical records to currently incarcerated individuals.

Wellpath did not respond to a request for comment from The Star on their medical records policy, or on the reason for delays in Suniga’s medical treatment.

Suniga is not the only inmate to complain about medical conditions in the jail. The Star, from public information requests to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS), received over 200 pages of documents relating to medical complaints in the Hays County Jail, or other facilities Hays County inmates were sent to.

One complaint alleges inmates in the medical wing of the jail, also known as “close watch” are often isolated and have few options for ways to pass the time.

“Hays County Jail has implemented an arbitrary policy of denying access to a TV and tablets to inmates housed in medical,” one complaint stated.

One document states TCJS policy does not guarantee inmates access to televisions, but Suniga and Rodriguez said access to tablets is necessary because inmates use them to file jail grievances and access their commissary accounts.

Another complaint alleges jail corrections officers do not pay enough attention to inmates experiencing medical issues. The complaint said officers are more concerned with finding contraband than inmate safety.

“All it would take is one officer not paying attention to a diabetic who is unresponsive and that diabetic could go into a coma, or die before anything is done,” the complaint stated.

Sam Benavides, communications director for Mano Amiga, a local advocacy group, said the majority of inmates in the jail are still awaiting trial, and are often too poor to properly advocate for themselves.

According to the Hays County Jail Dashboard, 402 out of a total 540 inmates in the jail were pre-trial detainees as of May 28, 2024.

“Almost three-quarters of our jail’s population are pre-trial detainees, meaning they have only been accused, but not convicted of any crime,” Benavides said. “Despite what the state has accused them of, everyone incarcerated in our county jail deserves to have their medical needs met.”

TCJS said in an email to The University Star there were nine pending investigations into medical conditions in the Hays County jail as of March 4, 2024.

The Hays County Sheriff’s office said they could not comment on any of the complaints due to Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) laws.

Hays County Jail inmate Mark Suniga in 2022 in San Marcos prior to his arrest on March 17, 2023. (Courtesy of Belinda Rodriguez)
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