California inmate died after not being given his HIV medicine, suit says

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The last time Lesley Overfield went to see her son in jail, everything had changed.

She visited El Dorado County Jail every two weeks or so, and when she’d previously seen him, he’d been fine, walking and talking and looking healthy.

But on April 22, when she visited her 38-year-old, HIV-positive son at the facility near Lake Tahoe and the Nevada border, he was completely different.

Nicholas Overfield was in a wheelchair. He was unable to lift the phone to talk with his mother from behind the glass partition in the visiting room. Then he leaned forward and put his head down on the table. The two never spoke on that visit.

A man smiles while wearing a hat.

Nicholas Overfield died from not getting his needed HIV medicine while in custody, a lawsuit claims.

(Overfield family)

Two months later, he was dead of a viral infection, varicella zoster virus encephalitis, which is among the conditions associated with AIDS, according to his family’s attorney, Ty Clarke. Medical records show that Overfield was not administered his HIV antiretroviral medications while in jail. Now, Lesley Overfield is suing over her son’s death.

“I’m very disappointed, very angry. I would like justice for my son,” she said. “I would like some accountability for their actions. Why did my son lay there in jail for two weeks with no one addressing it?”

Nicholas Overfield was arrested in February 2022 after failing to appear for a court date, according to the lawsuit his mother filed in federal court for the Eastern District of California last week. Clarke did not provide information on Overfield’s underlying criminal case.

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When he was arrested, Overfield and his mother made sure to give police officers his medication and informed them of his HIV-positive status so that he could continue to be treated in jail.

But he never got the drugs he needed, according to the lawsuit.

Instead, the jail failed to provide the medication the entire time he was detained, his lawyer said. During previous visits with his mother, Overfield had not mentioned that he wasn’t getting his medication, she said.

The day after she visited her son, Lesley Overfield got on the phone with a nurse at the jail about his condition. That same day, he was taken to a local hospital for medical treatment, the lawsuit said.

“Defendants were either unaware of or, worse, ignoring the severity of Nick’s general health and medical condition until they were forced to confront those things by his mother,” the lawsuit reads.

A nurse at the hospital spoke with a nurse at the jail.

“[Overfield] has not had access to his HIV medication since taken into custody in February,” the nurse wrote in medical records reviewed by The Times.

After a stint in the hospital, he was moved into hospice and died in June 2022.

“In a tragic and inevitable turn of events, Nick’s health had deteriorated at an alarming rate during and as a result of his detention at El Dorado County Jail,” wrote Clarke in the lawsuit. “Despite having Nick’s prescribed HIV medication, and despite having been told [by] Nick upon his arrest that he needed his HIV medication to keep his HIV in check, Defendants failed to provide Nick with his HIV medication. As a direct and proximate result, Nick’s HIV devolved into AIDS.”

A man is near a child.

Nicholas Overfield with his young child. During a jail stay, Overfield never received crucial medicine and subsequently died, a lawsuit says.

(Overfield family)

The lawsuit is filed against the county of El Dorado as well as Wellpath Community Care, a company that contracts with governments to provide medical treatment in correctional facilities. Wellpath is the largest provider of correctional healthcare in the country, according to the Department of Justice.

Clarke claimed that the company had a history of providing inadequate care for inmates in correctional environments.

A 2021 investigation by the Department of Justice into San Luis Obispo County Jail — where Wellpath provides healthcare services — found that the facility had failed to provide HIV antiretroviral medications to certain patients.

“Medications for prisoners with HIV are frequently delayed or not provided during the entirety of a prisoner’s incarceration, which can cause treatment failure by creating drug resistance, or by failing to keep viral loads at an undetectable level,” wrote lawyers for the Justice Department in the report.

The report found that the jail had failed to “provide constitutionally adequate medical care to prisoners.”

The company has been investigated by the Justice Department in numerous states, and a Reuters investigation found that inmates held in jails where the private-equity-owned company operated were more likely to die than at their county-controlled counterparts.

Wellpath did not immediately provide a comment on Overfield’s death. The El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office also did not respond to The Times’ request for comment.



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