Family files medical malpractice lawsuit in Atlanta teen’s jail death

Tyrique Tookes, 18, died at the Fulton County Jail in May 2019. His family has filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the jail's health care provider.

Credit: Family Photo

Credit: Family Photo

Tyrique Tookes, 18, died at the Fulton County Jail in May 2019. His family has filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the jail's health care provider.

The family of an 18-year-old who died two years ago at the Fulton County Jail has filed a lawsuit against the facility’s health care provider alleging the high schooler’s death could have been prevented.

Tyrique Jameal Tookes was found dead in his cell May 4, 2019, after complaining of chest pain for about two weeks, the GBI said previously. The lawsuit recently filed by the teen’s parents alleges that Tookes would still be alive had the jail’s medical staff taken his complaints seriously and gotten him to the hospital for X-rays.

NaphCare, the Alabama-based company contracted to provide medical care to Fulton’s inmates, is named in the suit along with several doctors and nurses. The company provides medical and mental health care at jails across the U.S., including several in metro Atlanta, according to its website.

It was awarded a $20.7 million contract to provide medical services at Fulton County’s jail in June 2018 after five inmates died there over a 75-day period, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution previously reported.

Records show Tookes, who attended Therrell High School in southwest Atlanta, was being held on an $8,000 bond after being arrested on charges of theft by taking and receiving stolen property nearly two months before he was found unresponsive in his bunk bed.

According to the lawsuit, the teen’s official cause of death was cardiac tamponade as the result of a ruptured aorta. Tookes seemed fine when he was first booked into the jail March 8, but began complaining of severe chest pain several weeks later, according to his family’s attorneys.

On April 27, Tookes was examined at the jail after complaining of chest tightness, “constant intense aching pain” and palpitations, according to the malpractice lawsuit. Medical records show he described the pain as 10/10. He was evaluated by a physician’s assistant, who reportedly determined the pain was the result of “possible heartburn.” Tookes was given ibuprofen and ice packs and told to return to the jail’s medical clinic if his symptoms worsened, according to the suit.

Two days later, the jail’s medical staff began giving him antacids while continuing to monitor his heart rate, blood pressure and temperature. On May 1, however, his follow-up appointment was “canceled,” according to the lawsuit. He was given another antacid that evening, but wasn’t checked on again, the lawsuit alleges.

By May 4, Tookes was dead. He was discovered unresponsive in his cell about 7:30 a.m.

“It was noted that his pupils were fixed, no pulse, muscle stiffed and non-moveable and his skin was cold to touch,” the lawsuit claims. The jail’s staff members performed CPR, but were unable to revive him.

Jane Lamberti, one of the attorneys representing Tookes’ family, said the teen’s mother reached out to the jail after learning of his symptoms and urged them to take her son to Grady Memorial Hospital for a thorough evaluation. That never happened, according to the lawsuit.

“From our perspective, they were grossly negligent in their actions,” said attorney Mawuli Davis, who is also representing the family.

Lamberti said a young man complaining of severe chest pain should have raised red flags among the medical staff, especially since he had never experienced such symptoms. An EKG or even a chest X-ray would have shown that something was wrong, she said.

“A simple chest X-ray would have revealed that his aorta was getting larger and larger like a balloon,” she said. “They would have known something was wrong and they could have surgically intervened before it ruptured ... He would have been just fine.”

Though the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office isn’t named in the lawsuit, the agency declined to comment on the litigation.

In a statement, a spokesperson for NaphCare declined to comment on the lawsuit, but called Tookes’ death “a tragedy.”

“The death of Tyrique Tookes is a tragedy, and we are deeply saddened by this loss of life,” the company said in an email. “NaphCare is unable to provide additional comment in light of pending litigation. We stand behind the quality of care provided to our patients and remain committed to providing the highest quality healthcare to every patient.”

GBI spokeswoman Nelly Miles said the state agency’s investigation into the jail death was completed in September 2019 and turned over to former Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard’s office. The case remains open.

Davis said the teen’s death, in his opinion, was preventable.

“This young man’s life was just not valued,” he said. “If any individual who were not incarcerated said, ‘I’m having severe chest pains,’ they would immediately be taken to the emergency room and treated.”

He called Tookes’ death an example of “profit over people,” by private companies receiving taxpayer money to look after inmates.

“They are in their custody and care, and the companies have a responsibility to ensure their safety,” Davis said.