Woman at Fort Worth medical prison died after staff ignored cries for help, women say

Kaley Johnson
·6 min read

A woman incarcerated at FMC Carswell prison in Fort Worth begged for medical attention for months, fellow inmates say, but was denied help until she died last week.

Martha Evanoff, 62, died on April 12. The Bureau of Prisons confirmed Evanoff died but said its office does not provide additional information on inmate deaths. A spokesperson referred the Star-Telegram to the Bureau of Prisons’ statement on patient care.

The bureau remains committed to the principle of preserving and extending life, according to the patient care statement. A “seriously ill or dying inmate” should be provided care consistent with this goal, the statement says.

Six women who spoke to the Star-Telegram about Evanoff’s death said the Bureau of Prisons did not provide this level of care to Evanoff.

Evanoff had intestinal and esophageal surgery outside the prison last year, her friend and fellow inmate Judith Broughton said. When she returned, she had complications and remained in the medical unit. Her surgical incisions had not closed all the way, and she had increasing stomach pain, Broughton said.

Evanoff tried to ask for medical care, but did not get the help she needed, her friends said. Her intestines were blocked and started to come out through the surgical incision, Broughton said.

“It was totally unnecessary. They could have done something to help her,” Broughton said. “She is not the first person to die here from intestinal blockage. She has a daughter on the outside and family and friends who loved her.”

Information about Evanoff’s well-being became difficult to come by when the prison went on COVID-19 lockdown in April 2020.

Sandra Shoulders, another woman at Carswell, said she sometimes saw Evanoff in the medical unit. Evanoff had been throwing up and complaining about stomach pain for months, she said. Another inmate, Windy Panzo, is also in the medical unit at Carswell for heart and lung damage related to COPD. Evanoff begged for help about the pain she was in, Panzo wrote in an email to the Star-Telegram, and “this place did nothing.”

“Medical indifference = murder,” she wrote. “And it is just as bad as having a knee on your neck, but the only difference is that there are no cameras rolling to record your death ... or hear your screams. No one can hear us here in the hospital, as we are cut off from everyone else and we are the most vulnerable population here.”

Faith Blake, an inmate at Carswell, said her mother is also in the medical unit where Evanoff stayed. Evanoff asked the officers and medical staff for help, but they did not listen to her, Blake’s mother told her.

“Everything backed up and she died,” Blake said. “That’s not neglect. That’s torture.”

Evanoff was well known in the prison and had many friends inside and outside its walls, Broughton said. She described her as a shoulder to cry on and someone who went to bat for others. She often talked about her excitement to be reunited with her teenage daughter and cat, Major Stackhouse, again. She was set to be released in May 2023.

Evanoff’s brother tried to call the prison to ask someone to help his sister, Broughton said, but to no avail.

Evanoff, a former Pentagon employee, was serving a 12-and-a-half year sentence for trying to hire someone to kill her husband, according to court documents. During a tense divorce in 2013, Evanoff hired someone — who turned out to be an undercover FBI agent — to “take her husband out,” an affidavit said.

“She didn’t have a death sentence and neither did the other ladies in the situation,” Broughton said.

More deaths at Carswell

Like many women at Carswell, Evanoff was denied compassionate release, a process that allows people with conditions such as terminal illness, sickness or advanced age to leave prison. She applied for sentence reduction or release in July 2020 based on her pre-existing medical conditions and the outbreak of COVID-19 at Carswell. The court said she met the guidelines for “extraordinary and compelling reasons favoring release,” but said she was a potential danger to the general public and denied the request.

She appealed in January, and the appeal was denied by the assistant United States attorney in the Western District of Texas on April 12 — the day of Evanoff’s death.

FMC Carswell is the only federal medical facility for women in the country. Most of the people incarcerated at the prison have medical or mental health issues and have sought compassionate release. The Bureau of Prisons does not share compassionate release data by prison, but those at Carswell estimated less than 20 people had been granted compassionate release at the height of the COVID-19 outbreak in the summer of 2020.

“This is not the first time, this is not the second time, that they do not give someone compassionate release or the CARES Act and then they died,” said Shoulders, who has also applied for compassionate release.

Marie Neba died on Aug. 25 from COVID-19, just weeks after filing a plea to the Department of Justice for compassionate release. She first applied for release when she was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer in 2019, but her multiple requests were denied.

Veronica Carrera-Perez, 40, had her petition for compassionate release turned down by a federal judge because of a procedural error. She died from COVID-19 on Aug. 3.

Other women say the prison has a pattern of ignoring people’s medical problems.

Cynthia Baxter died in October, two weeks after being released from Carswell. Baxter had cancer and did not receive treatment from the prison, fellow inmates said. Blake said Baxter was “ate up with cancer, she couldn’t even take a sip of water and they wouldn’t even give her an aspirin.”

Blake said Baxter lost 30 pounds from her sickness as she lay in her bunk, and was ignored when she asked for help.

Carolina Medellin said staff similarly ignored her cries for help when she had kidney stones in February. She said she had blood in her urine and could not walk straight from the pain. Medical staff gave her a shot of Toradol, which is used for the short-term treatment of moderate to severe pain, but would not treat her further, she said.

“They think that we’re lying just because we’re inmates,” Medellin said. “That we’re just trying to get pain medication. They have to see us fall on the floor or throw up because they don’t believe you because you’re an inmate.”

Medellin was able to go to the hospital because, after days of throwing up and becoming dehydrated, she nearly vomited on a staff member’s shoes, she said. She spent a day and a half in the hospital and passed two kidney stones.

Baxter was one of more than 70 women who filed a lawsuit against Carswell in August, alleging negligent medical care and malicious treatment.

The Warden should release many of us on home confinement before it’s too late,” Baxter — two months before she died — wrote in her testimony. “Well, actually it’s already too late for some.”