The Jonathan Magbie Story

jonathanmagbieI had never heard of Jonathan Magbie’s story until now, but it may quite seriously the most fucked up story I have ever heard.  If this is not a scathing indictment of the American justice system and it’s pathetic war on drugs then I don’t know what is.  

The events of this story took place in 2004 but the records of what actually happened were only recently opened to the public.  Magbie went from being a prop in a political photo op to a pawn in a deadly game of legal chess in the war on drugs.

Jonathan Magbie, who had been a quadriplegic since being hit by a drunk driver at age 4, died on Sept. 24, 2004, four days after D.C. Superior Court judge, Judge Judith E. Retchin sentenced him to 10 days in jail for possession of marijuana.  Magbie was a first-time offender.

Bbeing a quadripligic and all, Magbie needed a ventilator to help him breathe.  Retchin however could not let that minor detail get in the way of her keeping this non-violent, quadriplegic drug offender off of the streets.

Here are some facts of this case: 

1) Retchin understood the implications when she decided to incarcerate someone who used a wheelchair and needed a ventilator to breathe while sleeping. Months before his sentencing Retchin called Magbie to a status hearing. He attended in a motorized wheelchair that he operated with his mouth.

“Mr. Magbie,” asked Retchin, “are you able to raise your right hand to take an oath?”

“No,” he said.

Retchin was reminded three times by the prosecutor that Magbie was a quadriplegic and that the prosecution didn’t want to try him or send him to jail.

2)  Malek Malekghasemi, associate medical director at the city’s Correctional Treatment Facility when Magbie entered the D.C. jail, called Retchin’s office and asked that she order that Magbie be sent to a hospital because the jail’s medical facilities could not meet his needs.

“Minutes later [Retchin’s clerk] called me and said [the] judge will not issue such an order,” Malekghasemi said.

He next called the Corrections Department’s counsel and spoke with an assistant. “I asked if they could possibly help me to convince the judge that I need to move this gentleman out of CTF to Greater Southeast Hospital. . . . I did not get a call back,” he said.

3)  Magbie, in respiratory distress during his first night in jail, was taken to the emergency room of Greater Southeast Community Hospital (now United Medical Center). The doctor who treated Magbie disclosed in a deposition that he attended Howard University’s medical school for five years instead of the usual three because he had “had some problems with a few courses.”

When he attended to Magbie, the doctor had not gone through an internship or residency in emergency medicine. He also had failed three boards in internal medicine.

Despite knowing that Magbie wore a diaphragm pacemaker and needed a ventilator to breathe at night, the doctor sent him back to the D.C. jail, which could not provide a night ventilator.

4) When Magbie’s mother arrived at the jail on Sept. 24, 2004, with the ventilator that he used at home, she spoke with Malekghasemi. He did not tell her that her son had been rushed back to the hospital, where he would die hours later. “We’re not allowed to share medical information,” Malekghasemi said in his deposition.

5) Magbie’s last night at the D.C. jail could be likened to a night in Guantanamo: He was confined in a room with no means to communicate. Conditions worsened when he was returned to the hospital. Carbon dioxide was building up in his bloodstream because, without a ventilator, he wasn’t breathing deeply enough.

Magbie, fatigued from fighting to stay alive, drew smaller and smaller breaths and his heart finally gave out.

The lawsuit has been settled out of court. Health care at the jail has been reformed. The judge still reigns supreme.

How can we as a nation of allegedly right-minded people stand by and allow a judge who has such obviously poor decision remain on the bench?  I just don’t get it.  Meanwhile, privelaged white girls are openly laughing about being arrested for distribution of cocaine.


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