Politics & Government

NC inmate dies after being found unresponsive in solitary confinement, family says

NC inmate dies after being found unresponsive in solitary confinement, family says

Jordan Jedlica's family speaks about the circumstances surrounding his death early Saturday. Jedlica, 32, died in the custody of the N.C. Department of Public Safety. His family fears his death was the result of inadequate medical care.
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Jordan Jedlica's family speaks about the circumstances surrounding his death early Saturday. Jedlica, 32, died in the custody of the N.C. Department of Public Safety. His family fears his death was the result of inadequate medical care.

A 32-year-old man died early Saturday in the custody of the N.C. Department of Public Safety, and his family fears his death was the result of inadequate medical care while he was in solitary confinement.

“I’m not saying he was a top-notch citizen,” Tanya Marsik said of her youngest child, Jordan W. Jedlica of Raleigh. “But nobody deserves to die like that.”

Jedlica died at Duke University Medical Center in Durham after he was taken off life support. He had been transferred to Duke from Maria Parham Health in Henderson after being found unresponsive on the floor of his cell at Warren Correctional Institution in Manson late Thursday or early Friday, family members say they were told.

Marsik said she was told that when prison officials found him, Jedlica was in a rigid posture and appeared to have gone into seizure. She said he had no history of seizure disorders and was in good health.

Autopsy to be conducted

The state medical examiner’s office will conduct an autopsy to determine the cause of death.

John Bull, a state Department of Public Safety spokesman, said Monday that prison officials are looking into the circumstances surrounding Jedlica’s death. Bull said he could provide no further information about Jedlica’s medical condition other than to confirm he had been moved from Warren to an “outside medical facility” on Thursday and that he died at 9:37 a.m. Saturday.

Bull said Jedlica was serving a one year and seven month sentence for breaking and entering. He had no record of infractions during his time in prison, Bull said.

Marsik, who lives in Atlanta but was in Raleigh visiting family last week, said she received a call at 1:30 a.m. Friday from a prison chaplain saying Jordan was seriously ill. She was instructed to go to Central Prison in Raleigh after 8 a.m. to get a pass to visit him in the hospital.

Marsik, her daughter, Christina, and her two other sons, William and Justin, went to Duke on Friday to see Jedlica. They were told he was brain-dead, and had been so since he was picked up by ambulance from the prison.

He was shackled to the bed by his left wrist and right ankle. Family members said two prison guards remained in the room at all times.

Marsik and her children said a Duke doctor who worked on Jedlica told them his brain was severely swollen and that it was likely the result of extremely low sodium levels found in his blood. The family said the doctor told them there were no signs of head injury that would explain the brain swelling.

Brother of ‘human Ken doll’

The family said the doctor told them that it would likely take a few days for a person’s sodium levels to drop as low as Jedlica’s were, and that the resulting brain swelling like would have caused a painful headache.

Toxicology tests showed no drugs in Jedlica’s blood except prescription Prozac and medications given to try to revive him in the ambulance.

Further testing at the hospital, the family said they were told, revealed no brain activity. With the family’s consent, Jedlica was removed from life support late Saturday afternoon and died soon after.

Jordan Jedlica

Jedlica’s mother and siblings said they remained in the room, along with the prison guards, for more than two hours after Jedlica’s death, waiting for his body to be taken to the hospital morgue. They said they asked the guards repeatedly if the shackles could be removed from his body but were told no.

Jordan Jedlica and his siblings were born in New York. The family moved to Cary in 1995.

Justin Jedlica, the oldest of the siblings and a reality TV star known as “the human Ken doll” for the dozens of elective plastic surgeries he has had, said his youngest brother showed signs from a young age of what the family now believe was likely autism. He struggled in social situations and had obsessive-compulsive tendencies, Justin Jedlica said. But he loved music, and taught himself to play the drums, which he did in a couple of different bands with friends. He enjoyed soccer and karate.

Jordan began to act out after his parents split up, Justin Jedlica said, getting angry sometimes when he wasn’t able to express himself clearly. As a teenager, he got into trouble at school and began using drugs, which eventually led to stealing items that could be sold for drugs, Justin Jedlica said. Jordan was suspended from high school, but managed to graduate by taking classes at Durham Technical Community College, his family said..

State records indicate Jordan Jedlica was first convicted on a misdemeanor larceny charge in 2004. He was 17.

In 2007, he was convicted of a drug charge and of driving while his license was revoked. The next year, the seriousness of his charges increased; he was convicted of five felonies, including forgery, identity fraud and breaking and entering into vehicles. In 2013 he was convicted of drug possession and of obtaining property by false pretenses.

‘A lost spirit’

For as long as they could, Justin Jedlica said, the family tried to help Jordan, getting him enrolled in different drug rehab programs. But eventually, “It seemed like he didn’t want the help anymore, and we had to tell him, ‘You can’t stay here,’’ Jedlica said.

“He became a lost spirit,” William Jedlica said.

The children grew and embarked on their own lives: Justin moved to Los Angeles. William moved to Myrtle Beach, S.C. Christina married and got a house in Raleigh.

Marsik remarried and moved to Georgia, but said she kept in touch with Jordan. The whole family hated that Jordan was in and out of prison, she said, “But then at least we knew where he was. He wasn’t out on the street, he wasn’t sleeping under a bridge. He was getting something to eat and he was getting cared for. At least we thought so.”

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Jordan Jedlica, on life support, is kissed by his mother, Tanya Marsik. Courtesy of the Jedlica family

In March, Jordan Jedlica was sent to Craven Correctional Institution in Vanceboro. He called his mother, she said, and he told her he didn’t know why he kept getting into trouble but he wanted to change. She said he told her that he expected to be moved to a different facility, and that when he got out, he wanted to do better.

She talked to him again on Saturday, April 27, she said. He had been moved to Warren Correctional Institution. He told her he had been warned he might be put into “restricted housing,” or solitary confinement, for 20 days starting the following week. He did not tell her why.

“I told him to hang in there,” she said. “He said, ‘Don’t worry about me, Mom. I’ll be OK.’”

A week later, he was dead.

Marsik and her children say they don’t know what would have caused Jordan Jedlica’s sodium levels to drop so low. They want to know if he acted strangely or complained about not feeling well, and if so, whether prison officials took it seriously. They want to know how long he lay on the floor without receiving medical help.

“If they had found him in time and done something, he would still be alive,” William Jedlica said. “This should never have happened.”

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Martha Quillin is a general assignment reporter at The News & Observer who writes about North Carolina culture, religion and social issues. She has held jobs throughout the newsroom since 1987.

Dan Kane began working for The News & Observer in 1997. He covered local government, higher education and the state legislature before joining the investigative team in 2009.