Prisoner Sent To His Death, Lawsuit Claims

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Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder Sues Dept. Of Corrections Commissioner Armstrong, Others, For Wallens Ridge Suicide

March 8, 2001

HARTFORD — A suicide resulted when the Connecticut Department of Corrections sent a mentally ill 20-year-old inmate to a Virginia "super max" prison, violating its own procedures and its contract with the prison.

David Tracy, formerly of Bridgeport, hanged himself with a bed sheet on April 5, 2000, six months after being transferred to Wallens Ridge Prison in Virginia as part of a Connecticut plan to ease prison overcrowding.

Attorney Richard A. Bieder of Bridgeport-based Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder, today announced that he filed the lawsuit on behalf of Mr. Tracy, whose history of serious mental illness included nearly a dozen self-destructive acts and suicide attempts in Connecticut prisons before he was sent to Virginia.

Connecticut's contract with Virginia "prohibited the transfer of any inmate with chronic mental health problems," said Attorney Antonio Ponvert, also of Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder.

The lawsuit, filed today in Bridgeport at the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut, is against Corrections Commissioner John Armstrong, the Connecticut Department of Corrections, the University of Connecticut Health Center (which is under contract to provide medical services to state prison inmates), and employees of both organizations.

"Commissioner Armstrong has yet to admit that David suffered from serious and chronic mental illness, and he hid from the public the fact of David's several prior suicide attempts while in prison in Connecticut," said Bieder.

The Department of Corrections knew the Virginia prison would be unable to care for Mr. Tracy and as a result he was likely to again attempt suicide, the lawsuit says. Medical and mental health services to inmates at Wallens Ridge, the suit says, often were not sufficient even to meet the terms of Virginia's contract with Connecticut.

Before being transferred to Virginia, while incarcerated at the Northern Correctional Institution, Somers, doctors diagnosed Mr. Tracy as having a mental illness serious enough to prevent him from being able to function in a general prison setting and requiring frequent, direct interaction with mental health staff. He required psychotropic medication.

"His lengthy and obvious mental condition was just flat out ignored when he was shipped to Wallens Ridge," said Ponvert.

The lawsuit accuses Connecticut prison officials and medical personnel from the University of Connecticut Health Center as acting "with reckless or callous indifference to David Tracy's dignity as a human being and to his constitutional and statutory rights."

"Wallens Ridge State Prison is intended to confine the worst and most violent prisoners in the country, not a suicidal man who had scant time left to serve," Bieder said. "In an effort to ease Connecticut's prison overcrowding, the state ignored Mr. Tracy's serious mental illness and sent him away to die."

"After studying the facts of this case, I am convinced that Mr. Tracy is not the only Connecticut inmate with mental health problems who is callously mistreated because of illness," Bieder said. "It is clear to me that state funding for medical treatment of inmates is grossly inadequate."

"There are about 17,000 people confined in the Connecticut prison system," Bieder said. "There have been too many suicides within that population last year alone. Other family members who suffered loss from prison suicide in Connecticut have contacted us. With cutbacks in funding for mental health care, there has been a concurrent increase in the prison population. Unless those committed to the care of the Department of Corrections who also have mental health problems receive proper medical treatment, it is only a matter of time before more deaths occur."

"A medical condition should not result in anyone being treated like a 15th century dungeon prisoner," Bieder said.

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