Inmate death blamed on asthma attack Autopsy report cited; Mother, lawyer say medicine was withheld


An acute asthma attack likely caused the death of a 22-year-old inmate at the Howard County Detention Center last weekend, according to initial autopsy results from the state medical examiner's office.

The mother of Parrish Michael Spinoso and her lawyer asserted yesterday that detention center officials knew the Ellicott City man was asthmatic and failed to provide him his medication. The lawyer called the death suspicious.

Jail officials refused to discuss details of the case.

"It's a very sad loss for the family and it's important to do a full and complete investigation," said Melanie C. Pereira, director of the detention center.

An official with the state medical examiner's office who asked not to be named said "initial indications point to an acute asthma attack as the cause of death." Initial tests found no illegal drugs in Spinoso's system and results of other tests are pending, the official said.

Spinoso, charged with selling heroin to undercover detectives, was arrested at his Ellicott City apartment Friday morning.

After his arrest, observed by a reporter, police allowed Spinoso to use his inhalers and take a prescription pill. Police said they delivered that medicine to the jail.

Spinoso was found dead, alone in his cell, about 6 a.m. Sunday, 42 hours after after entering the detention center.

Announcing the death, authorities said there were no signs of suicide or foul play.

In a telephone interview yesterday, Spinoso's mother said her son had deep "psychological and asthma problems."

"I blame the system. He was a troubled, wonderful kid who needed help," said Carol Spinoso, 47.

Her lawyer, Marvin Ellin, said, "It's a very suspicious set of circumstances," adding, "What we have here is a very, very severe asthmatic fighting for breath and permitted to die."

While declining to comment about Spinoso's case in particular, Pereira said that under jail policy, inmates usually are allowed to keep prescription medicine after it has been reviewed.

Ellin said that inmates recalled Spinoso begging nurses three times for his inhalers and pills. The lawyer refused to identify the inmates.

Pereira said nurses work from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekends, and doctors and physician assistants are on call 24 hours a day.

Inmates can regularly see those assistants, and doctors on referral, Monday through Friday, Pereira said.

The jail was sued after an inmate committed suicide there in 1995. But a federal judge dismissed the suit filed by the inmate's family, which alleged that jail staff ignored the man's potential for suicide.

Spinoso was arrested at his apartment in the 3200 block of Normandy Woods Drive Friday morning as part of a police sweep of 20 alleged drug dealers in eastern Howard County.

As he sat near the rear of the police wagon before being taken to the station, Spinoso would answer only one question posed by a reporter: He said he was a community college student.

An officer cut off his plastic handcuffs, and Spinoso began breathing deeply from inhalers. Officers recuffed his hands in front of him in case he needed to use the inhalers and told Spinoso to kick the wagon's walls if he needed help.

Pub Date: 6/11/98

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