Family Of Dead Inmate Suing

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Mentally lll Man Died After Restraint

by Dwight F. Blint
The Hartford Courant

November 19, 2002

The family of a mentally ill inmate who died in 1999 after being restrained by guards filed suit Monday against the Department of Correction.

The suit claims that Bryant Wiseman, 28, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, was beaten unconscious and asphyxiated by prison staff at Garner Correctional Institution in Newtown.

It charges that Wiseman received inadequate medical care after becoming unconscious and that he had not been receiving his medication before the altercation.

"I'm sick and saddened. There's no excuse for it," said attorney Antonia Ponvert III, who is representing Wiseman's family. The suit was filed in Hartford Superior Court.

Correction officials declined to comment.

At the time of his death, Wiseman was halfway through a 10-year sentence for trying to set a woman's apartment on fire.

During a press conference Monday, Ponvert showed videotape of the incident that led to Wiseman's death. Wiseman's mother and family members began sobbing as the tape played.

Wiseman had gotten into an altercation with another mentally ill inmate, and the tape showed both men being escorted from the prison's housing unit to another area within the building.

The camera followed the other man down hallways and through doors to an area where he was treated for his wounds and photographed.

Off camera, correctional staff took Wiseman to a small room where they intended to strip search him, Ponvert said.

A loud commotion was heard in the distance. The camera followed the sound to a room where more than a half-dozen guards were restraining Wiseman. The taping, routinely done whenever force must be used, showed the guards piled onto Wiseman and one man dressed in civilian clothing raising his fist and repeatedly punching down on him. It was not clear where Wiseman was being struck. Guards were yelling at Wiseman to stop resisting and for him to give them his hands.

At least two officers had their knees placed on Wiseman's back, while the others were pressing their body weight down on him, Ponvert said. The guards remained on Wiseman for a few minutes even after he was handcuffed and his feet were shackled.

The guards got off Wiseman only after he began throwing up so they could turn him on his side and call for medical assistance.

"What kind of government are we living under that allows such hideous acts to happen to our children?" said Wiseman's mother, Elaine. "They killed my only child. I'm upset and I'm humiliated."

Ponvert said Wiseman's death was tied to the state's lack of funding for psychiatric hospitals, which has resulted in more mentally ill people being sent to prisons ill-prepared to care for them.

Ponvert said that Wiseman died seven months after inmate Timothy Perry, who also suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. Perry died while being restrained by staff at Hartford Correctional Center. Ponvert's firm, Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder based in Bridgeport, represented Perry's family and the state settled that case for $2.9 million earlier this year, Ponvert said.

"A whole lot of money is going toward the payment of the deaths of these young men," said Ponvert. "I hope taxpayers are angry about this."

Chief State Medical Examiner H. Wayne Carver II has not reached a conclusive cause of death for either man. The result of the Department of Correction's internal investigation into Wiseman's death is unknown.

Copyright 2002, Hartford Courant