Brooklyn federal jail ignores inmate’s lung cancer diagnosis in latest medical mess

NEW YORK — Staff at Brooklyn’s troubled Metropolitan Detention Center ignored an inmate’s cancer diagnosis for months, letting a mass in his lungs grow to double its size while he coughed up enough blood to fill a milk carton, defense lawyers say.

Terrence Wise, 54, who’s awaiting sentencing in a Molotov cocktail firebombing case, is the latest in a series of inmates subjected to what defense attorneys and judges describe as grievous medical mistreatment at the Sunset Park federal jail.

Delays in treatment and missed medical appointments have long been a problem at MDC, with Manhattan Federal Court Judge Jesse Furman lamenting, “There are far too many cases to cite,” in a ruling earlier this year.

The judge rattled off several examples — an inmate who couldn’t use a CPAP machine for 85 days because the jail didn’t provide an extension cord, another inmate whose broken cheek had to be re-broken because the jail defied a judge’s order for treatment and it had improperly healed, and yet another who waited more than three months for emergency surgery for a twisted bowel.

The timeline of Wise’s medical care is laid out in letters from both his attorneys and prosecutors to a federal judge in Brooklyn. He was suffering chest pain and coughing up blood for months in his jail cell, according to his Federal Defenders attorneys.

Wise first became ill last fall. A chest X-ray on Nov. 7 showed no mass in his chest but his doctor was concerned enough about Wise’s symptoms to call for a CT scan.

That scan didn’t happen for nearly four months — the first of multiple delays in his care.

On Feb. 28, the jail finally sent Wise out for his scan, which showed a 3.2 centimeter mass in his chest. The jail apparently got the report about his scan results on March 11 and MDC’s clinical director, Dr. Bruce Bialor, signed the report a week later, according to Wise’s lawyer’s filings.

Wise made requests to learn the results of his tests and made several complaints to jail staff about pain and coughing up blood but a nurse practitioner, Beverly Timothy, deemed the mass “benign” on April 26.

“No doctor reviewed her notes, or sent Mr. Wise to the hospital, for an additional three days,” wrote Wise’s lawyer, Mia Eisner-Grynberg of the Federal Defenders. “Apparently, MDC Health Services, a medical facility, does not provide weekend care.”

When Bialor finally had him hospitalized on May 3 a needle biopsy showed the mass had grown to 6.3 centimeters, Eisner-Grynberg wrote. Further testing determined it was lung cancer requiring intensive chemotherapy and radiation treatment.

When a federal judge demanded an explanation for the inaction, MDC staff said in writing: “The results were somehow missed by the health services department, and the delay was unfortunate. Health Services Department generally respond to sick calls within 2 weeks. The March 11th sick call was missed but the sick calls received thereafter were responded to on April 26, 2024.”

Eisner-Grynberg tore into that response in a letter to the court, making a point of Wise’s repeated written and verbal complaints to jail staff, noting “he even handed them a milk carton containing his bloody sputum.”

“MDC’s admission is cold comfort to Mr. Wise, who is sitting in a hospital room, his family banned from his bedside, waiting to learn his fate,” she wrote on May 6. “Because of their ‘unfortunate’ delay…. the mass more than doubled in size, which may significantly impact Mr. Wise’s treatment options, and accordingly, his chance at survival. To call it ‘unfortunate’ lacks basic humanity.”

She also pointed to two other medical mistreatment cases at the MDC over the past several months — one of which so disturbed a federal judge that the judge ordered Bialor and other MDC staff to a hearing to determine whether they lied about giving an inmate all of his antibiotics after his appendix burst in May.

Bialor and four other staffers have been made to get their own private defense lawyers, paid for by the Department of Justice, in case they wind up with criminal charges.

In December, Brooklyn Federal Court Judge Dora Irizarry described the jail staff’s conduct as “an abomination” and “contemptuous of human life an dignity” after they defied her order to send an inmate with a severe contagious MRSA infection to a hospital. Instead, the inmate was placed in a yellow jumpsuit to single him out as sick.

Conditions at the jail have been criticized by judges, lawyers and elected officials for years, with one judge back in 2016 referring to conditions there as “third world” and “unconscionable.”

“Mr. Wise’s case is only the most recent, though in some ways the most alarming, in a series of cases of medical delay and neglect at MDC Brooklyn,” Eisner-Grynberg wrote.

Federal Bureau of Prisons spokesman Scott Taylor refused to answer questions about Wise’s care or about whether Bialor or any other MDC staff face discipline or investigation, citing “privacy, safety, and security reasons.”

When asked if the Bureau of Prisons has any plan to address lapses in medical care, Taylor only provided general information about the prison system’s medical obligations to inmates.

“The FBOP takes seriously our duty to protect the individuals entrusted in our custody, as well as maintain the safety of correctional employees and the community,” Taylor said on Friday. “We make every effort to ensure the physical safety and health of the individuals confined to our facilities through a controlled environment that is secure and humane.”

Wise will have to return to MDC while he undergoes his chemo and radiation treatments because of an unspecified problem with the nursing home that typically handles some of the jail’s inmates. He is due to return to the jail from a hospital this week.

Last week, defense lawyer Kathryn Wozencroft, also of the Federal Defenders, lobbied Magistrate Judge Robert Levy to release Wise on bail into the care of his daughter, though prosecutors worry he’d be a danger to the community if he’s not locked up.

Levy ordered the jail to allow Wise daily phone calls to family and his lawyers so they can monitor if he’s getting his treatments.

Wise is locked up for throwing a Molotov cocktail at a van parked in Brooklyn in November 2022, then returning three days later to set the same van on fire. His motive isn’t specified in court papers.

Two days after his second attempt, he lit a U-Haul van he was driving on fire after he got into an argument and someone rammed it. He yelled “Truck going on fire!” before setting it ablaze, court papers reveal. He tried to flee cops in a U-Haul van before his arrest that December, according to the feds.

‘”The MDC historically and repeatedly fails to bring people to medical appointments,” Wozencroft said. “We know there are constant lockdowns. People are not getting access to basic living needs.”