By Andrew Gorosko, The Newtown Bee
Published: August 10, 2018
The Estate of J’Allen Jones, a Garner Correctional Institution inmate whose violent March death at the high-security prison at 50 Nunnawauk Road has been ruled a homicide, is pursuing a wrongful death lawsuit against the state Department of Correction (DOC).
In legal papers dated August 2, which are scheduled to be filed in Connecticut Superior Court in Hartford, Attorney A. Paul Spinella of Hartford, representing the estate, names 12 defendants in the case, including DOC Commissioner Scott Semple. Also named as defendants are the prison warden, two correctional supervisors, six correction officers, and two Garner medical unit employees. The plaintiffs are Lynette Richardson, who is the administratrix of the estate, and Jones’ mother, Jessica Jones.
State police spokeswoman Kelly Grant said August 7 that the state police investigation into Jones’ death is continuing. The Chief State’s Attorney’s office is participating in the investigation into Jones’ death.
DOC spokesman Andrius Banevicius said, “It is the policy of the Department of Correction not to comment on pending litigation.”
Jones, 31, was serving a ten-year sentence in Garner on convictions for charges including first-degree robbery stemming from an incident at a gas station/convenience store in Waterbury in August 2013.
In June, Connecticut Chief Medical Examiner James R. Gill, MD, determined that the March 25 untimely death of Jones, who was engaged in a struggle with prison staffers, was a homicide. Homicide is a broad term that may include murder, manslaughter, or instances of self-defense.
A medical examiner’s spokesman has said that Jones experienced a sudden death during a struggle and restraint with chest compression, plus pepper spray exposure in a person with hypertension and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.
Pepper spray is an aerosol-based disabling weapon derived from hot peppers that causes the eyes to tear and interferes with breathing. Hypertension is abnormally high blood pressure. Atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, also known as hardening of the arteries, results from the deposition of fatty plaque on the inner walls of blood vessels.
According to a DOC statement that was issued after the death, at about 11:05 am on March 25, Garner’s health services staff determined that Jones required treatment and some increased supervision at the prison’s in-patient mental health unit.
(Garner is the state prison that specializes in providing acute mental health care to state prison inmates.)
“During escort and placement into [the unit], inmate Jones became noncompliant and combative with staff, and then became nonresponsive. Life-saving measures were immediately initiated and Jones was transported via ambulance to a community hospital, where he was declared deceased at approximately 12:25 pm,” according to DOC.
The lawsuit states that ten of the defendants were present when Jones was brought to prison’s mental health unit on March 25. Although Jones was “handcuffed, restrained, helpless and surrounded by as many as ten of the defendants,” they used pepper spray on him, it states. The legal papers allege that the defendants attacked and beat Jones, eventually breaking his neck and causing his death.
Attorney Spinella said that the DOC has a surveillance video of the incident, which it has not provided to him.
“The DOC has stonewalled us,” he said. The lawyer said he will seek a copy of the surveillance video through a court subpoena for use as evidence in the lawsuit.
According to the lawsuit, the defendants were responsible for avoiding inflicting cruel and unusual punishment and the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain on inmates. However, Jones died as a direct result of the defendants’ conduct, it adds. “The defendants acted recklessly, and their recklessness caused the death,” it states.
Through the lawsuit, which lists seven counts against the defendants, the plaintiffs are seeking money damages, attorneys’ fees, and other relief from the court. The court return date is September 18.
Karen Martucci, DOC’s director of external affairs, said in June, “It will be the state’s attorney’s responsibility to determine if a crime has occurred. We stand by our original statement that there were no immediate indications that excessive use of force was utilized.”
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