Inmate Death Case Settled For $900,000

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by Thomas B. Scheffey
Connecticut Law Tribune

February 4, 2008

Stuart Kinsman, Admin. Et al. v. Theresa Lantz, et al.

Without admitting fault, the state of Connecticut settled a federal lawsuit with the estate of former Garner Correctional Facility inmate Dennis Gary Kinsman, who died of traumatic asyphyxia at the hands of correction officers.

Kinsman, diagnosed with a schizoaffective disorder, was attending an anger management class at the Newtown facility on May 19, 2004, taught by recreational therapist Brian Hendrickson, according to the complaint.

Kinsman got into a disagreement with Hendrickson during the class, and the teacher grabbed Kinsman by the shirt and attempted to remove him from the room. Guards were summoned, and 11 responded. The complaint alleged that six correction officers hog-tied Kinsman face down with his feet against his buttocks and his hands shackled behind his back. According to the complaint, that caused him to vomit, become unconscious and then die. An additional six prison employees watched, the complaint alleges, and failed to stop the alleged assault.

The case was similar to the November 1999 Garner death of Bryant Wiseman and the death of Timothy Perry at the Hartford Correctional Center in April 1999.

The estate is represented by Sean K. McElligott of Bridgeport’s Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder. It claimed that Department of Correction officials should have analyzed and evaluated the department’s use of force policies in light of the earlier deaths, provided better instruction about the risk of compression asphyxia, and amended its instruction of guards to avoid such deaths.

It failed to do so, and as a result, “Dennis was killed in a nightmarish reenactment of the deaths of Mr. Wiseman and Mr. Perry,” the complaint alleged. The case was before Judge Janet C. Hall in U.S. District Court in Bridgeport.

Correction Commissioner Theresa C. Lantz was represented by the state Attorney General’s office. The claims were made under the civil rights act, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and state claims of assault, battery and intentional infliction of negligent distress. The state denied all claims.

The settlement was approved last week by the Newtown Probate Court. The state will pay $900,000 and will waive all liens against Kinsman’s estate.