Saturday, November 23, 2013

Family of Alexander Orlowski Seeks Justice

Six years ago, on Thanksgiving morning, a young man lost his life while he was incarcerated at the Milwaukee County House of Correction (HOC).  According to the news articles, the young man had taken an overdose of prescribed medication.  Having had worked at HOC, I wrote about the story:
Friday's paper had an article about an inmate that was found dead at the Milwaukee County House of Correction on Thanksgiving Day morning. This adds to the compounding trouble that has been occurring at the House of Correction and Community Correctional Center for the past several months.

This time the story is of an inmate, with a history of drug abuse issues, apparently taking an overdose of prescribed medication. As I have stated before, there is a systematic problem with the correctional system in Milwaukee County. There is poor leadership among top administrators that don't know what's is going on in their own departments. There is also a crisis of overcrowded prisoners and a severe shortage of correctional officers.
Subsequent to writing that, I received an email from Patti Orlowski, the mother of Alexander Orlowski, the
Alexander Orlowski
young man who died at HOC. Long story short, I soon had the opportunity to meet with Patti and her husband, Gary.

The Orlowskis shared the story of Alexander's life with me.  Alexander had been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).  He had a  lot of problems while growing up, including self-medication with alcohol and street drugs, which led to a polysubstance addiction.  Alexander's addiction and mental health issues led to other problems, including committing crimes to get money to feed his addiction.  This is what led up to his incarceration.

The Orlowskis also told me about the way that Alexander died.  He had been able to get a small stockpile of methadone pills from another inmate who was known for selling drugs.  Said inmate was able to cheek his medication and then would sell the pills to other inmates in exchange for canteen (bags of chips, gum, candy bars, etc.).  Alexander was one of this inmate's best customers.

On Thanksgiving morning, when Alexander was to get up to go to work in the HOC kitchen, he wouldn't or couldn't .  The guard, instead of pushing the issue, simply sent an alternative worker.  It wasn't only until much later that the guard realized the seriousness of the situation and called for medical help.  But by this time, it was too late and Alexander was gone.

The Orlowskis had told me that they had filed a claim against Milwaukee County, then superintendent Ron Malone, the officer working that night and his sergeant.  A complaint like this is the precursor to filing a lawsuit.  The Orlowskis readily admitted that no amount of money would bring their son back.  But their main purpose for doing so was to bring to light the problems going on at HOC, most of which could be followed back to poor leadership and the results of austerity measures by then County Executive Scott Walker.

They also complained of the runaround that they were getting from the county regarding their son's death.    They were having problems getting people to return their calls, much less give them any answers.  After more than five years of fighting with the county, they have decided that it was time to file their lawsuit:
The family of a 20-year-old man who died from a drug overdose at the Milwaukee County House of Correction in 2007 blames the county and its chaotic administration of the lockup at the time, in a lawsuit filed in federal court.

Alexander Orlowski died from a methadone overdose, after trading bags of chips for the drug from other inmates, the complaint says.

The county and workers at the House of Correction in Franklin failed to take any steps to stop the drug trafficking, which was common knowledge among inmates, according to the lawsuit.

The complaint, filed Thursday by Orlowski's father, Gary Orlowski, seeks an unspecified amount in damages.

The complaint says the county condoned a system in which correctional officers were poorly trained and supervised. Employees often "cut corners and shirked their duties," the complaint says.
The greatest tragedy, is that no matter how much money the Orlowskis might win, it won't bring Alexander back.

The next greatest tragedy is that Scott Walker will still walk away from this without having to take responsibility for it.  While Walker didn't make Alexander take those pills, it was Walker that didn't staff the HOC adequately and did not allow common sense precautions that could have prevented this.

It is also sad that Chris Abele, the current county emperor, has not only failed to learn the lesson from Alexander's passing, but has doubled down on the austerity, all but guaranteeing that we will continue to see stories like this.

With all that said, I wish the Orlowskis all the luck in the world on their lawsuit.

But with the lawsuit being filed now, so close to the anniversary of their son's death, I wish them peace and love for their Thanksgiving Day.

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