WASILLA -- Kellsie Green died in January, six days after she entered the Anchorage jail -- 24 years old, weighing only about 80 pounds and about to embark on the brutal process of detoxing from a 4-gram-a-day heroin habit.
Now Green's father is claiming in a civil wrongful death lawsuit filed late last month against the Alaska Department of Corrections that the brief jail sentence he'd hoped would save her life instead led to her death.
John Green said his daughter's cellmates at the Anchorage jail told him requests to help Kellsie went mostly ignored even as her condition worsened to the point she could no longer stand, vomited blood and soiled herself.
"The lack of compassion for somebody that's going through this -- how can that be?" the Wasilla resident said during a recent interview. "This isn't a jail in Turkey or somewhere. This is America."
Kellsie's death certificate shows she died from malnutrition, dehydration, renal failure and heart dysrhythmia, he said in an email.
The Alaska Correctional Officers Association is disputing the story Kellsie Green's cellmates told about requests for help being ignored. A representative said correctional officers tried to get help from medical staff.
Green's death has already changed the way DOC monitors inmates going through withdrawal.
The state corrections department is still reviewing the circumstances surrounding Green's death, a spokesperson said Thursday.
Corrections is also "working on ways to improve the treatment and care of offenders who go through withdrawals," spokesperson Corey Allen-Young wrote in an email.
Since Green's death, the state has established an "enhanced detox monitoring system ... to ensure closer medical monitoring during withdrawal."
He described several new steps initiated under the monitoring system in an email Friday:
Inmates who need a higher level of medical monitoring go to a medical segregation unit. Once released, they go to an intake unit but are brought back to medical clinic three times a day, with nursing staff making rounds twice at night. Inmates in withdrawal can be assigned an inmate caregiver.
"There are now designated cells in the intake units for inmates on withdrawal protocols," Allen-Young wrote. "This makes it easier to identify who is on withdrawal protocols and allows staff to more closely monitor inmates for changes in the severity of symptoms.
Generally, he said, patients in withdrawal are checked "at regular intervals" and receive treatment for symptoms if necessary, including medication to block or soften the response of the sympathetic nervous system to opiate withdrawal, anti-nausea and anti-anxiety medications, as well as anti-seizure and anti-psychotic medications where needed.
Correctional officers are trained to recognize signs of withdrawal and report any observations to medical staff, Allen-Young said.
Wrongful death lawsuit
The suit, filed in late March by Anchorage attorney Jason Skala and Caliber Law Group LLC, charges the department "failed and/or refused to provide Ms. Green with adequate medical care during obvious and serious withdrawal symptoms."
Green is seeking more than $100,000 in damages for past medical expenses, lost wages, funeral expenses and attorney fees, with the exact amount to be determined by a judge.
Kellsie Green's drug addiction was "apparent and obvious," the suit charges, as evidenced by the fact she was in possession of heroin when she went to jail.
Because Green was deprived of the right to make her own decisions, Corrections had a duty to identify withdrawal symptoms, refer Green to a medical facility for treatment, approve her transfer to a detox facility and not knowingly cause her to "suffer severe and prolonged physical pain and suffering during life threatening withdrawals," the suit states.
The state failed to provide adequate training to employees, resulting in a substandard level of understanding of reporting, care and supervision of prisoners during detox, it claims.
Few options for detox outside jail
Green's wrongful death lawsuit could have far-reaching implications. Many addicts in Alaska end up detoxing in jail after getting arrested on drug- or alcohol-related crimes.
Detox is the process of clearing the chemical dependence on drugs or alcohol from an addict's system. Most experts advise doing it under medical supervision. Symptoms of heroin withdrawal can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or seizures, though it is not generally considered life-threatening in the way alcohol detox can be.
The only option in Southcentral for inpatient detox is the 14-bed Ernie Turner Center, operated by the Cook Inlet Tribal Council in Anchorage.
Kellsie Green didn't have a vehicle so she didn't try to get on the waitlist at Ernie Turner, her father said. But he and Kellsie's mother sent her to a rehabilitation facility in Arizona.
"And she walked out in two days," he said.
John Green said Kellsie's cellmates told him his daughter was sick from the start -- she was weak and dehydrated. She was given an open-topped plastic shell on the floor to sleep in, known as a "boat" and used to combat overcrowding in jails around the country. The women helped Kellsie to the shower and cleaned her up, the women told Green.
The cellmates told Green they tried and failed to get medical help for Kellsie. Correctional officers told them they'd get written up if they kept hitting alarms.
Kellsie told one of her cellmates, "I'm gonna die in here," Green said.
Four days into her time, medical staff did administer intravenous fluids and anti-nausea medications, he was told. By Saturday, Kellsie was throwing up blood and could no longer stand up, he said he was told. She soiled herself. A correctional officer took her to the shower.
Then his daughter was moved out of the cell and into solitary confinement, Green said.
Corrections officers found Kellsie unresponsive in her cell the morning of Sunday, Jan. 10, according to the lawsuit. CPR was initiated. She was declared dead at Alaska Regional Hospital at 10:38 a.m.
'All inmates say they are dying'
The correction officers association, however, issued a statement Friday saying the two women in a cell with Kellsie Green weren't telling the entire truth to her father, at least as he recalled it. The women were "angry and hostile" and were calling officers to get Green out of the cell with them, according to the statement, emailed by ACOA business manager Brad Wilson.
Officers eventually had to remove Green from the cell and put her in another one, the statement said. Officers responded every time the call button was pushed.
When officers asked medical staff to make sure Green was safe, they were told words to the effect of "all inmates say they are dying; she is not dying. She was just released from Medical Segregation and she is fine," the statement said. "Detoxing is very painful and there are many people detoxing every day in the Department of Corrections. Correctional Officers do not have the final say on an inmate being seen by or released from medical."
Corrections spokesman Allen-Young said the agency couldn't respond to the association's remarks due to the ongoing lawsuit.
Kellsie Green attended Wasilla and Burchell high schools and graduated from the Military Youth Academy in 2007, according to her obituary. She attended Church on the Rock and worked at Three Bears, Denali Restaurant and as a massage therapist. Family described her as sweet, funny, generous, loving and kind-hearted.
Kellsie was picked up by Alaska State Troopers in January.
Her parents called them.
Her father said he and her mother decided that jail time was the only chance Kellsie had to get healthy again. She was living with her mother and had stolen checks, a gun, a credit card.
She also was wanted on a warrant for failing to complete 80 hours of community service ordered on a March 2015 arrest for driving on a suspended or revoked license.
"We begged them to arrest her," John Green said.
Troopers picked Kellsie up at the Chevron gas station at Settlers Bay, near Wasilla. She was to serve a 10-day sentence starting Jan. 5.
Green called jail the last hope for many parents of addicts.
“We wholeheartedly believed it would keep her alive,” he said.
Alaska Dispatch Publishing