$2.9 million settlement for death of mentally ill man

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by Dan Levine
The Hartford Advocate

May 2, 2002

How much is the life of a 21-year-old mentally ill inmate worth? For Timothy Perry, a man killed by Hartford Correctional Center officers on April 12, 1999, the monetary answer is straightforward.

Two point nine million dollars.

Perry's death sparked a civil lawsuit by his estate against employees of the state's Department of Correction and Department of Mental Health and Addictive Services. Last week, the General Assembly's Judiciary Committee approved a $2.9 million settlement.

But a more Important concern is whether Perry's death will have more meaning than a mere hunk of cash. Problems with a range of DOC policies were pinpointed in a scathing investigative report on Perry's death, released last August by the state's Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities.

For example, the report notes that "covering of a restrained inmate's head or face is not permitted;" a corrections officer had covered Perry's face with a towel while others held him down.

When the investigative report hit the street last summer, DOC Director of Communications Brian Gamett told the Hartford Courant that the DOC would "review and carefully consider" its recommendations.

However, when the Advocate called Garnett last week and asked how the DOC had changed its policies in the aftermath of a settlement costing taxpayers $2.9 million, we were greeted with an official no comment, on the advice of lawyers from the Attorney General's office.

Lawyers for Perry's estate are more vocal.

"You would think with the specter of big money being paid out-of-pocket, the first thing that would be done is to look at how it happened," says Richard Bieder, a partner in the Bridgeport-based fIrm Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder.

For starters, Perry never should have been sent to Hartford Correctional in the first place, the investigative report says.

Until March 31, 1999, Perry was a patient at Cedarcrest Hospital, a Department of Mental Health facility in Newington. Diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and borderline personality disorder, Perry had problems controlling his temper and would often act aggressively.

After striking a doctor at Cedarcrest, hospital staffers had Perry arrested and sent to Hartford Correctional instead of Whiting Forensic Division, a higher-security mental health hospital in MiddletoWll. The lawsuit claims Cedarcrest employees deliberately sent Perry to Hartford Correctional instead of Whiting.

So what can Perry's death teach the DOC? Plenty. The night he died, Perry acted aggressively toward corrections officers. They piled on to restrain Perry, handcuffed him behind his back and carried him to his cell face down, put him face down on the mattress and shackled him. One officer placed a towel over Perry's face because he was trying to spit. He was then carried to another cell and placed in four point restraints, face down.

"It should be clear that ... inmates are not to be held face down; that breathing may not be impeded; that covering of a restrained inmate's head or face is not permitted," the investigative report says in its recommendations to the DOC. "These policies should also make clear that ... genuine attempts must be made to de-escalate the situation prior to employing physical force or restraints."

Perry was totally unresponsive while in the four-point restraints, but a staff nurse still injected him with sedatives as officers held him.

No one checked Perry's vital signs, and DOC policy doesn't require them to. The officers and nurse thefi left Perry alone, and two hours later he was found dead in the cell.

While the DOC has adopted stricter policies for when medical staff is on site, it still has the same use-of-force guidelines for its corrections officers. Bieder says those stricter policies should apply to all DOC personnel, including guards, and they should have the training to implement them.

Other areas for concern at DOC, as outlined by Perry's attorneys, include:

* Videotaping procedures. A videotape of events in Perry's cell contained significant gaps, and officers involved in his death were allowed to view the tape before turning it over to investigators. Lawyers say they have not detected any change in the DOC's chain of evidence practices.

* Discipline. Only two lieutenants on duty the night Perry died were suspended by the DOC, along with two guards -- everyone else was let off with a reprimand at most.

Again, the DOC declined to respond to questions for this story.