Jury: Prison Captain Used Excessive Force

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by Diane Struzzi
The Hartford Courant

March 4, 2006

After deliberating about five hours Friday, a federal jury in Bridgeport found that a captain at Northern Correctional Institution used excessive force against an inmate who had been placed in four-point restraints and left there for 22 hours.

The eight-member jury in the civil rights lawsuit found that Capt. Sebastian Mangiafico punched 38-year-old Duane Ziemba after the inmate was forcibly removed from his cell nearly eight years ago.

The jury awarded $250,000 in compensatory and punitive damages to Ziemba, according to his lawyer Jim Nugent.

The jury, deliberating in U.S. District Court following a five-day trial, found that two other defendants - medic Reginald McAllister and registered nurse Margaret Clark, who were correction employees in August 1998 - were not liable. Both had been sued for failing to be attentive to Ziemba's medical needs.

Ziemba, who is incarcerated at Garner Correctional Institution and serving the last days of his 12-year sentence on a larceny conviction, was ecstatic at the news, Nugent said

"He was so thankful to us, the court and the jury for finally hearing him and treating him like a human being, something he has not been treated like since he's gone into" prison, said Nugent, who represented Ziemba along with Antonio Ponvert III.

"This might be the most significant verdict against the [state] Department of Correction ever, because of the effect it should have on guards and other staff members who might be tempted to mistreat inmates," Ponvert said. "It sends a loud message that no one is immune from the law and the Constitution is fully alive within the prison facilities of this state."

The state attorney general's office represented McAllister and Clark but did not represent Mangiafico. Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said the decision not to represent Mangiafico was made after his office and the state Department of Correction concluded Mangiafico's actions were outside the "proper scope of his employment."

"Claims of abuse against correction officers are rarely credible and even more rarely well-founded," Blumenthal said Friday. "I'm pleased that the jury has completely cleared the two Correction Department employees represented by my office."

Brian Garnett, spokesman for the Correction Department, and Mangiafico's lawyer, Cheryl Johnson, could not be reached for comment.

Mangiafico and McAllister still work in the prison system. Mangiafico is a captain at MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in Suffield and McAllister is a correction officer at Robinson Correctional Institution in Enfield. Clark, who was a nurse at Northern, now works at a medical hospital and lives outside Connecticut.

The trial offered jurors a glimpse into the austere environment of the super-maximum security prison, which critics say isolates prisoners and offers little rehabilitation. Jurors viewed a videotape of Ziemba entering Northern and being removed from his cell under heavy guard after he broke a sprinkler. They saw correction officers escorting him in handcuffs along a concrete hallway and kneeling on top of him to place his body in four-point restraints. They heard Ziemba scream that correction officers were hurting him.

Correction officers made the videotape, which is common practice when they forcibly remove an inmate from a cell.

Ziemba was transferred to Northern, located in Somers, from Garner Correctional Institution in Newtown in August 1998. During the trial, Ziemba testified that he had ripped the ceiling down from his cell at Garner after correction officers made implied threats against his family.

After arriving at Northern, the prison where inmates with chronic disciplinary problems or violent behavior are often placed, Ziemba testified that he wasn't fed breakfast or lunch. In the hopes of getting attention and help, Ziemba testified that he broke the sprinkler in his cell, which brought a group of correction officers and initiated the removal from his cell.

Nugent said Ziemba is expected to be released from prison this month, most likely into a halfway house.