Lawsuit Alleges Negligence and Discrimination in Death of Autistic Man in Pittsburgh Jail


Summary: The family of Anthony Talotta has filed a federal lawsuit against the Allegheny County Jail, alleging substandard medical care and violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Talotta, who had autism and developmental disabilities, died from a preventable infection at the jail. The lawsuit also highlights the high number of deaths at the jail and raises concerns about the treatment of prisoners with mental health or developmental disabilities.

The family of 57-year-old Anthony Talotta has filed a federal lawsuit against the Allegheny County Jail in Pittsburgh, alleging negligence and systemic discrimination in his death. Talotta, who had autism and developmental disabilities, died from a preventable infection caused by a foot wound while in custody.

The lawsuit claims that the doctors and medical staff at the jail provided substandard care to Talotta. It also argues that jail policies, which prohibit prisoners with mental illness or developmental disabilities from being housed in the medical unit, violate the Americans with Disabilities Act by creating barriers to accessing adequate medical care. The lawsuit further highlights that at least 17 people died at the medically understaffed jail in a two-and-a-half year period, the majority of whom had mental health or chronic medical needs.

The lawsuit names the Allegheny Health Network, the contracted jail medical care provider, as well as Allegheny County and Medical Director Donald W. Stechschulte. It also names Wilson Bernales, a doctor who dismissed or went against hospital recommendations in treating Talotta. Bernales had his medical license revoked or suspended in eight states prior to his employment with the health network. The lawsuit also includes the unknown staffing agency that screened and hired Bernales.

The lawsuit alleges negligence in the hiring process of Bernales without proper verification of his license issues in other states. It also accuses the jail of denial or delay of medical care, lack of supervision and training, wrongful death, and discrimination. Messages seeking comment were left for Allegheny County and the Allegheny Health Network.

The family’s attorneys argue that the jail’s medical staff was aware of Talotta’s injuries, including fractures, torn ligaments, and burns, but failed to provide appropriate care. Due to his autism and intellectual disabilities, Talotta was unable to communicate his medical needs or care for himself. Jeff Lagrotteria, Talotta’s cousin, expressed that Anthony called him from the jail but never mentioned his injury. Lagrotteria also stated that neither the group home nor the jail informed him about the fight or the resulting injury. The lawsuit seeks justice not just for Anthony but also for other individuals with chronic care and mental health needs who have suffered at the Allegheny County Jail in the past and may enter it in the future.

Luciana Randall, president of Autism Connection of Pennsylvania, commented on the lack of comprehensive data on the number of incarcerated individuals with autism or developmental disabilities in the state. She emphasized that jails are not equipped to support people with disabilities and called for diversionary programs specifically designed for this population.

The lawsuit highlights the repeated hospital visits and orders for Talotta’s foot injury. However, jail staff removed his walking boot and crutches because they were against the rules of the mental health unit. The lawsuit further alleges that the antibiotics prescribed for Talotta were never provided, and the medical supplies given to him by hospital doctors were confiscated. On the day of his death, Talotta was found clutching his chest and unable to speak, indicating sepsis. Medical records cited in the lawsuit state that he was given Benadryl for allergies and sent back to his cell, where he was later found frothing at the mouth and unresponsive. He was then taken to the hospital, where he passed away the following day. Speaking to The Associated Press, Bernales disputed the narrative and the medical records, claiming that Talotta was allowed to keep his wound care supplies.

Anthony Talotta, who did not have any siblings, was taken care of by his parents and had a trust set up for him. He enjoyed spending time with his extended family, participating in their sausage-making activities and going to the zoo or movies. His cousin, Tina Talotta, expressed the family’s hope that no one else will suffer a similar fate and that her aunt’s legacy of caring for others will be upheld.

Tags: lawsuit, negligence, discrimination, autistic man, Pittsburgh jail, substandard care, Americans with Disabilities Act, deaths in jail, mental health, developmental disabilities