Pat Brueggemann says her son, Joseph, died in August in Sedgwick County Jail after not getting proper medication and care. She is seeking systemic changes. (Kansas Reflector illustration from submitted photos)
TOPEKA — Joseph Earl Brueggemann had green eyes, sandy brown hair and loved fishing. He left behind a 15-year-old daughter and beloved elderly cat when he died on the floor of the Sedgwick County Jail at age 38, alone and with an untreated skull fracture.
“He didn’t deserve this,” his mother, Pat Brueggemann said. “He did not deserve what happened to him.”
Preliminary autopsy results determined that Joseph Brueggemann’s cause of death on Aug. 24 was from a heart attack caused by a blood clot. Pat Brueggemann said she had a lot of concerns about the way he died and how he was treated in the jail, especially about the medication given to him and the jail’s treatment of his mental health issues.
Col. Jared Schechter, jail administrator, said the facility prioritized medical care, but with a staffing shortage of almost 100 people and limited mental health resources, the jail struggles to provide everyone with needed treatment.
Schechter said he couldn’t speak to the specifics of the Brueggemann case but gave an overview of the struggles the jail faces.
“We’re not a mental health treatment facility and our resources do become stretched thin with the amount of inmates that we do have,” Schechter said. “We try to prioritize everybody we can see and get them the access they need and help they need but they are still stretched thin with mental health needs in the jail.”
Pat Brueggemann said her son was taken to jail after an altercation with his father. After three days without hearing from him, his family searched the jail database and the nearby hospitals, without luck. Pat Brueggemann eventually found him listed under a misspelled name in the Sedgwick County Jail system.
Pat Brueggemann said jail officials told her that her son spent six days in a detox pod without incident, before becoming erratic and aggressive on Aug. 17. He was moved to a temporary disciplinary cell where he dove head first into the ground, causing a skull fracture. Pat Brueggemann said his cell window was covered with paper, so he couldn’t see out and guards couldn’t see in.
She and her daughter obtained the footage of Joseph Brueggemann’s skull fracture from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. Jail officials told them they weren’t aware of the incident.
“Employees there are not trained to recognize when someone’s having a mental health issue,” Pat Brueggemann said. “Because if you saw that video, you would clearly see that his behavior was manic after six days of normalcy. I mean, he did things like jumping over a desk and trying to get out of the area he was in. And of course the skull fracture, how he just threw himself right on the floor.”
He spent the next seven days alone in a disciplinary pod. On Aug. 24, he told the detention officer that he didn’t feel well, and was left alone for the next five hours. He was found motionless a little after noon and confirmed dead shortly after.
Schechter said the jail policy is to check in on inmates every one to two hours, but the worker shortages made it difficult to fulfill this policy.
“With staffing shortages, it does make it hard sometimes to hit every mark with the rounds,” Schechter said.
Pat Brueggemann said she didn’t believe her son was getting the right treatment, or any mental health help. She said she was given conflicting reports of which medication he was taking while in jail, especially since he had a seizure within the first three days of incarceration. She said that hadn’t happened since he started anti-seizure medication years ago.
The first report she received from the KBI had all of his medications listed, which included Xanax, Zoloft, anti-seizure medication, pain relievers and blood clot medication. She then received a second report saying he was only taking three medications, generic Depakote, magnesium sulfate and acetaminophen.
Schechter said he couldn’t release confidential medical information on Joseph’s medication or head injury.
“He had been on Xanax and Seroquel for many years to help control his mental health issues and he was not given those in jail. And there’s no way that he would not tell them that he needed those meds because he did,” Pat Brueggemann said.
She said she never got an explanation of why the reports had conflicting data. She is trying to get an attorney in order to obtain her son’s medical records.
“There’s obviously lack of care, lack of education, lack of training, and somebody needs to look into it,” Pat Brueggemann said. “Inmates are people too. One of them was my son.”
Schechter said mental health treatment is difficult to address, with limited resources and an estimated 30-35% of inmates having serious mental health problems.
“We struggle with mental health care in the jail for a lot of reasons,” Schechter said. “The first reason is we’re not a treatment facility. We’re not built to be a treatment facility. We do the best we can to provide resources and help and programming for mental health inmates. The next problem we run into is that we can’t force inmates to take medication.”
Schechter said around 70 to 80 people are booked into the jail daily, with each person given a full medical assessment or mental health assessment, detox assessment and suicide risk assessment within four hours. The jail currently has around 1,400 inmates. The jail’s capacity is 1,500 inmates.
He said there were sometimes issues with getting incarcerated people their medication because the jail needed medical records, doctors or pharmacy information to confirm which medications an inmate should receive.
“It makes it difficult that the inmate can’t tell us which pharmacy to fax a release to or which doctor’s office to contact or confirm things. It just makes things difficult, which can cause delays in that,” Schechter said.
Pat Brueggemann said the system needed to be changed.
“I’ll never get over this,” she said. “There will never be a totally happy day in my life ever again. I just want somebody to do something before they have another jail death. It’s not right. Something’s not right.”
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