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Over Easy: The Degree of Civilization in a Society

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On March 17, 2013, Christopher Lopez took his last breath at 9:08 AM, stripped and shackled, face down on a cement floor in San Carlos Correctional Facility, while his jailers joked and made chit-chat. During Mr.Lopez’s videotaped death, which began at 3:30 AM, guards subjected him to a forceful cell extraction even though he was limp. When they placed the spit hood over his head and shackled him in the disciplinary transport chair, he slumped to one side and had a grand mal seizure. Without performing any mental health assessment whatsoever, they returned Mr. Lopez to his cell, placed him on the cement next to the toilet, and injected him with two psychotropic drugs.

“Is it lunch already?” the guard asks, followed by inaudible conversation.

“He could swallow his teeth, I don’t care…”

A guard proclaims, “He didn’t even piss on himself, so he’s not seizing.” “What’s he doing now?” a female supervisor asks. “Smells like he peed all over the place,” a man replies. “Is he still on the floor?” “Yeah.” “He likes it on the floor.” “I like him on the floor.” “Yeah, he likes it alright when he’s on the floor.” Laughter ensues. “Isn’t that terrible?”

While the staff makes fun of him, Mr. Lopez’s breathing changes to that of a fish out of water. When his breathing stops and he dies, the on-call mental-health clinician outside the cell door speaks through the window and asks the body, “What are you doing? Why are you doing this?” “What’s wrong? Don’t you like it on Three Right?” She inexplicably adds, “I can see you breathing.” She also tells the corpse, “Open your eyes,” and then she amazingly says, “Good.”

The only thing missing from Mr. Lopez’s horrible and lonely death is the pepper spray, but that was not really an oversight. He would have been pepper sprayed prior to the forceful extraction procedure, but the staff was short that day, the lawsuit describes:

“He actually wants to respond, but he can’t,” Gutierrez-Gonzalez told someone, then called out, “I understand you have some medical condition, but you have to work with me so I can help you.”

Gutierrez-Gonzalez then told Lopez if he didn’t cooperate, there would be a forced cell entrance, during which he would be pepper sprayed.

More than an hour after they noticed Lopez on the floor, a six-member team assembled to mount a forced cell entrance. Before going to the cell, they were told that because of a lack of personnel, gas wouldn’t be used.

The guards entered the cell dressed in riot gear and dragged him out.

Prior to Mr. Lopez’s death, he lived in solitary confinement for more than nine months. In Wilkinson v. Austin 545 U.S. 209 (2005), the US Supreme Court held that procedures for determining which prisoners should be placed in a Supermax prison must satisfy the requirements of due process, but the Court did not address indefinite solitary confinement of the mentally ill. Since Mr. Lopez suffered from schizophrenia, he could not act as his own advocate, file a grievance, or ask a jailhouse lawyer to help him. Instead, his mental health treatment included a slow-motion, torturous death.

“I went to Walmart this morning,” said one of the guards, as Mr. Lopez lay next to the toilet, dying.

Mr. Lopez’s situation is not unique.

In Michigan, mentally ill inmates at Huron Valley were “denied water and food, ‘hog tied’ naked for many hours, left to stand, sit, or lie naked in their own feces and urine, denied showers for days, and tasered,” according to witness letters to the ACLU of Michigan.

Who is in charge of health care for the incarcerated mentally ill? One private contractor is Corizon. According to its website, Corizon is:

Clinically-focused. Patient-centered. Evidence-based.

As the correctional healthcare pioneer and leader for 35+ years, Corizon Health provides client partners with high quality healthcare and reentry services that will improve the health and safety of our patients, reduce recidivism and better the communities where we live and work.”

Corizon has landed a 100 million dollar contract in California with Fresno jail, the latest in a long list that includes a $224 million contract in Alabama. Corizon Health, “the nation’s leader in correctional healthcare solutions” invites us to browse the website to see their “people, practices and commitment to success.”

Corizon has been sued 660 times for malpractice over the last half-decade. The ACLU adds that “As long as Corizon is motivated by its bottom line, there will always be a perverse incentive not to provide treatment. And Corizon is doing very well. The company makes $1.4 billion dollars a year off sick prisoners. Just last week, Corizon inked a new five-year, $1.2 billion contract with the state of Florida. This means that Corizon is now getting taxpayer money in 29 states. And they’re vying for more.”

Corizon is being investigated in Arizona, for taking taxpayer money designated to provide inmate healthcare and doing nothing or being so egregiously negligent that mentally ill inmates are dying.

New York City has contracted Corizon to provide health care for its inmates for more than a decade, previously under the name Prison Health Services, according to a report. In spite of a contract with New York City that pays $280 million for medical care and a $128 million for administrative support, fifteen have died at Rikers Island Jail. Rikers Island didn’t bother telling families it let inmates die.

Yesterday, three high-ranking Rikers officials resigned, following an graphic 79-page inquiry from the United States attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York in August, detailing abuse of adolescent inmates at Rikers.

In Florida, where Darren Rainey was scalded to death at the hands of guards at Dade CI, George Mallinckrodt, a former mental health employee for Corizon at Dade CI, blew the whistle on the behalf of Mr. Rainey and others. At our site, he commented:

I’m George Mallinckrodt, the only former staffer at Dade CI to come forward publicly about the egregious behavior of guards in the psych unit called the Transitional Care Unit. As a result of the stories broken by the Miami Herald’s Julie Brown, it is comforting to know I’m not alone anymore in bringing the abuse, beating, torture, and murder of inmates to the attention of the public. Almost two years ago, after I answered my phone with a typical “Hello,” my former coworker blurted out, “They killed him!” Ever since, I’ve been trying to get people to pay attention to the murder of Darren Rainey. I contacted the FDLE, FBI, Miami Metro Homicide, and the ME’s office to no avail. When Julie broke the story Sunday, May 18, 2014, there was no doubt in my mind that I would come forward. I may not have been able to change much when I was working in prison, but now it appears I have been more successful on the outside. I’ve got to give the inmate, Harold Hempstead, a massive amount of credit in coming forward as he did. As we all know now, really bad things happen to men in prison.

The complaint I lodged with the Dept. of Justice in DC may now receive the attention it deserves. No doubt one of thousands of complaints filed every year, perhaps as a result of recent publicity, it may move up a bit in the line. Of course, I’d like to see it go straight to the top.

For his trouble, George Mallinckrodt was fired. He continues to speak out against cruelty and to press for a federal investigation into the killing of Mr. Darren Rainey. This petition has 204,365 supporters so far:

Petitioning Attorney General Eric Holder
“Investigate the 2012 death of Mr. Darren Rainey, a mentally ill Florida prisoner who died after prison guards locked him into a 180-degree shower.”

When Russian Novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky said, “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons,” he aptly described the treatment of America’s incarcerated mentally ill in tandem with complete disregard for basic human decency.

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