Heart Failure: Medical Runaround Keeps Man Locked in State Prison Two Years After Being Paroled
Not only was John Teixeria granted a rare “medical parole” in January 2020 but he’s also received standard parole every six months since then. But state prison officials say they have no place to send him in his condition.
When John Teixeria was moved to a nursing home in Queens Village after three decades in prison, he thought his time behind bars was finally at an end.
“When I first crossed the Throgs Neck Bridge, I said, ‘It’s over,’” Teixeria recalled of the trip in June 2021 during an interview via his legal team earlier this month back at Fishkill Correctional Facility. “We pulled up, went inside, they introduced themselves to me.”
Within minutes, a nurse at the Windsor Park Rehab and Nursing Center in Queens indicated there was a problem.
Teixeria said the nursing home staffer told him the facility couldn’t accommodate the cost of the medication regimen he needs for late-stage heart failure and refused to admit him.
So the guards brought him back to Fishkill.
“At that instant, I told myself that I couldn’t just run [away]. It was like I was slapped with a ton of bricks again,” he remembered.
Prison reform advocates say his case highlights the lack of options for newly released incarcerated people who have serious medical needs. Many go straight into the city’s crowded homeless shelter system.
Teixeria’s plight also brings attention to the state prison system’s inability to come up with an acceptable discharge plan nearly two years after he was released on medical parole.
Now 59, Teixeria was granted medical parole on Jan. 28, 2020 — becoming one of just 18 people in state prison to be freed via that avenue that year, according to DOCCS.
In 2021, just 10 people were granted that release, records show.
Teixeria and his supporters fear he may die in prison if his case drags on any longer.
DOCCS was requiring him to be released to the “county of conviction” which in his case was Suffolk County where facilities willing to take him are limited, according to his legal team.
On Tuesday, his legal defense team sued the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision in State Supreme Court in Dutchess County, arguing that his continued incarceration and “county of conviction” rule was “arbitrary and capricious,” the legal threshold that must be met for the judge to take action.
“He’s extremely anxious about his worsening health condition,” said his lawyer, Daniel Negless. “And he sees the writing on the wall that, based on the bureaucratic inaction over the last two and a half years, if something doesn’t change, he’s going to die in prison.”
On Friday, Judge Christie Acker ruled DOCCS must investigate a potential discharge spot at Exodus and other locations. Once a bed is located DOCCS has to release him even if it is not located in the “county of conviction,” according to the decision.
A Long Sentence
Teixeria has been locked up in state prison for 32 years following the killing of Kerry Kearns on Oct. 21, 1988. He was convicted of second-degree murder on June 13, 1990 and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
Details of the case remain sparse. The 33-year-old woman, who witnesses said was last seen with Teixeria the night before, was found dead at her Northport, Long Island, home, stabbed and strangled.
He later signed a written confession — “after being physically abused and placed in fear for his well being” — but then recanted, according to court documents tied to an appeal he filed years later.
The woman’s family could not be reached for comment.
“He’s had an excellent record in prison,” said Stefen Short, a Legal Aid Society lawyer also working on Teixeria’s case. “And he’s ready to reintegrate into his community and contribute to community life. And that’s the professed purpose of the criminal legal system — to afford people that opportunity.”
He was also granted regular parole four months later on July 24, 2020.
In a bizarre bureaucratic setup, Teixeria has met with the parole board every six months since then and been granted similar releases each time.
The reason he is still in prison stems from DOCCS’ legal obligation to approve any proposed discharge address for someone who is eligible for community supervision.
That is more challenging for people like Teixeria who have complex medical needs, prisoner advocates and defense lawyers noted. He has suffered multiple heart attacks and needs a transplant, his medical records show.
His legal team says they’ve offered 13 possible locations where he can get proper care, including a housing site in Queens run by Exodus, a nonprofit that helps the formerly incarcerated.
“We’ve pressed the department really hard to investigate those potential discharging locations commensurate with its statutory responsibility,” said Short. “Based on what we understand, the department has not done any meaningful investigation of those locations.”
DOCCS spokesperson Thomas Mailey declined to comment on the pending litigation.
‘You Have to Look Out for Yourself’
Teixeria has “suffered from multiple life-threatening heart conditions,” according to his court filing.
He had two heart attacks in June 2010 and underwent coronary artery bypass surgery. A year later, he went into cardiac arrest and doctors inserted an internal defibrillator and a pacemaker.
“Since then, Mr. Teixeria has experienced around 10 additional heart attacks, and has undergone numerous surgeries to replace his defibrillator,” the lawsuit said.
In November 2020, he had a catheter inserted in on the right side of his chest to receive a 24-hour intravenous injection of the drug Milrinone, which helps his heart keep pumping.
Prison reform advocates contend Gov. Kathy Hochul needs to do more to release elderly people who are dying behind bars.
“Elation,” Teixeria recalled when he first heard the news of his release. “(I was) thinking that the nightmare was finally going to end. And hoping to start a whole new life again.”
As he waits for DOCCS to approve one of the proposed release locations his need for a heart transplant has become more dire, according to his lawsuit.
The Milrinone prescription’s effectiveness is waning and he’s in “significant pain and feels worsening lethargy to the point of being bedridden for several days at a time,” the court documents said. He sometimes sleeps for up to 16 hours a day.
While in prison since his first parole was granted, Teixeria has also suffered from “osteomyelitis (a severe bone infection) and multiple infections, including with MRSA, at the site of his intravenous line,” the lawsuit reads.
His lawyers contend he does not need to be placed in a hospital or acute care facility upon release and his chest port does not need daily monitoring. Instead, he could be treated at a site that offers some in-house medical and nursing care, like the one run by Exodus.
Teixeria changes his own bandages in prison, he told THE CITY, via a written list of questions sent through his lawyers.
“After my open heart surgery, after I saw what type of care wasn’t available to me, and the level of after care that was non-available to the point of non-existence, is why at this point I do my own bandage changes and medication changes,” he wrote. “When I let them do it for me, I was left in the ICU on two separate occasions for more than 10 days.”
“And in the ICU, I was losing motor and cognitive functions,” he added.
Medical care for people in state prison has long been criticized by medical experts and prisoner advocates.
“Let’s just say that 90% of my medical care in prison has been of my own hand,” Teixeria said. “You have to look out for yourself here. To depend on these people is a joke.”
CORRECTION (Aug. 8, 2022): An earlier version of this article said that Teixeria was one of 18 people ever to be freed via medical parole. Rather, he was one of 18 in 2020.