Whiting Named in Wrongful Death Suit

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by Amy L. Zitka
Middletown Press

April 12, 2001

The estate of a severely mentally ill man who died in prison filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit Wednesday against state departments and officials, including Whiting Forensic Division and mental health officials at the maximum-security psychiatric facility. Timothy Perry, who was 21, died from asphyxiation April 12, 1999, at Hartford Correctional Center because of excessive force from prison guards, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Bridgeport. Perry, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, was transferred from Cedarcrest Regional Hospital to the prison after officials at Whiting prevented Perry’s transfer to the Middletown-based facility, the lawsuit charges.

Attorney Antonio Ponvert, who is representing Perry’s estate, said Perry had spent half of his life in facilities. During his last admission at Cedarcrest in Newington, Perry had threatened and assaulted staff -- as part of Perry’s manifestation of his illness and psychiatric disorders, Ponvert said.

"Timothy’s aggressive and impulsive behavior was caused by his illness, and was not properly prevented, managed or treated by Timothy’s psychiatric and medical workers at Cedarcrest and other DMHAS facilities," the lawsuit said. "Timothy’s illness caused him to engage in assaultive, impulsive and aggressive behavior." Perry was diagnosed and was being treated for schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder and other psychological disorders, according to the lawsuit.

Mental health officials treating Perry at the time decided to press charges against the 21-year-old, Ponvert claims. The officials consulted with officials at Whiting Forensic Institute to transfer Perry to the Middletown facility, and the Whiting officials "who for inexplicable reasons said no," the attorney said.

Whiting Forensic Division, as well as the assistant director Denise Ribble and physician Dr. Joseph More, are named in the lawsuit.

They are being sued for being responsible for denying and preventing Perry’s transfer to Whiting, the lawsuit claims. The officials are also being sued for authorizing, permitting and not objecting to Perry’s transfer to prison, according to the lawsuit.

"Timothy should have been accepted to Whiting for care, treatment and supervision," according to the lawsuit. However the officials "deliberately refused and prevented his transfer there, knowing and intending that Timothy would be sent to prison, and that he would receive inadequate treatment, supervision and care as a result."

"We’re not commenting," said Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services spokesman Wayne Dailey. Whiting Forensic Division and Cedarcrest Regional Hospital are divisions of the state department.

"We hope the cumulative effect will cause people in state government to wake up," Ponvert said about the lawsuit. "It’s inhumane, heartless and no way to run a modern-day prison system. These are top-down problems."