Hays County Inmate Is Left to Rot in Jail

It’s not just a figure of speech for Ranulfo Benitez-Morales

Ranulfo Benitez-Morales and a friend before his arrest and injury (photos courtesy of Yadira Benitez)

Ranulfo Benitez-Morales is worried that he will soon lose his right leg because of what he describes as inadequate medical care at the Hays County Jail. Benitez-Morales was shot by Kyle police with a beanbag round – a projectile consisting of a mesh bag filled with lead shot – on Oct. 6, 2021, as they took him into custody for assaulting an officer and evading arrest. The round penetrated his calf six inches below the knee. He was taken to Ascension Seton Hays Hospital for treatment.

"When I went to the hospital the cops told the doctors there just to stitch me up and not to do nothing else, and then they brought me to jail," Benitez-Morales said. "They didn't even clean my leg and it got infected. And I've been dealing with this almost a year."

Benitez-Morales' leg began to swell immediately after he was locked up. Within a week the flesh around the wound was hot and suppurating. After days of requests for help from Benitez-Mor­al­es, jail administrators consulted a doctor who advised opening the wound back up. As the stitches were removed a hole opened, disgorging pus, blood, and pieces of dead flesh.

In the months that followed, the wound was very slow to close. Benitez-Morales's leg swelled to three times its normal size. He had fevers, urinated blood, and stopped eating at times. He told his sister, Yadira Benitez, that the pain was "more than a ten out of ten."

Medical staff at the jail gave Benitez-Morales Tylenol for the pain and jail administrators, after a month's delay, provided him with a cane. Doctors performed an ultrasound and found no issues. Benitez-Morales asked guards daily to bring nursing staff to clean the wound. He estimates that it was cleaned every ten days. So he cleaned it himself with soap and water and after three months it crusted over. But the pain and swelling did not subside.

"Usually, he's like a tough guy," Yadira said. "He's funny and all that. But you could hear it in his voice, like breaking down, and he was just really worried.... So I would call the jail and they would tell me, 'We're already doing everything that we can.'"

“This has been going on for too long. Sooner or later it’s going to reach my bone and then you know what’s going to happen. If it reaches my bone then my leg is gone. That’s what I’m scared about.” – Ranulfo Benitez-Morales

Benitez-Morales said that throughout his ordeal jail officials have been indifferent and sometimes openly hostile to his requests. Spokes­per­sons for the jail have not responded to detailed questions and requests for comment. But according to Michele Deitch, director of the Prison and Jail Innovation Lab at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, substandard health care is the norm in county jails. "Most jails don't have functioning health care systems," Deitch said. "They are not identifying people's medical needs. They're not addressing those needs. When they are identifying them the quality of health care is poor. The availability of healthcare professionals is very limited. People are left without medications. They have long waits to see somebody. If they do see somebody, they are often told to just wait, or something's not a serious problem. Or they just give them an aspirin, when it turns out that they have far more serious conditions. I think that it's fair to say that many, if not most, people leave jail with far worse health conditions than [they had] coming in."

After Benitez-Morales's original wound closed, he continued to have terrible pain, hot and cold sweats, and heat around the wound. The pain crescendoed after he'd been in jail for seven months, and a new hole opened in the side of his leg, two inches from the first. Again it disgorged pus and blood. A ring of blisters formed around it. He called his sister and begged her for help. She visited the jail in person and threatened to sue. On July 13, Benitez-Morales was taken to the hospital, where doctors operated on his leg and removed what Yadira described as small pieces of metal. Benitez-Morales stayed in the hospital for four days, then returned to jail.

Now, the skin around the wound is darkening and the leg remains swollen and painful. Benitez-Morales met with a doctor on Monday, Aug. 15, to prepare for an appointment with a wound specialist. During the meeting the doctor realized the jail does not have the records from Benitez-Morales's July hospital stay, something the specialist will need. Ranulfo believes it could be weeks before he gets to see the specialist now, time that he doesn't think he has.

"This has been going on for too long," he said. "Sooner or later it's going to reach my bone and then you know what's going to happen. If it reaches my bone then my leg is gone. That's what I'm scared about."

Yadira is scared too. "I know he's in jail, it sounds bad, but he's actually a good person," she said. "He's just had addiction problems and he's never really gotten the help that he really needs, and I felt like maybe this will be his wake-up call. But if he loses his leg I don't think he's going to recover from that ... I feel like if he does have a chance of bettering his life, this is going to put him down."

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