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Lawsuit Charges Excess Force By Guards In Inmate's Homicide; Pepper Spray, Then An 'Attack' And Broken Neck

Posted on August 2, 2018
By: Josh Kovner, Hartford Courant

There is a chasm between the state’s account of the violent death of inmate J’Allen Jones, and that of his lawyer and family, who released a lawsuit on Thursday that alleges brutality and excessive force against corrections officers, but certain fundamental facts are not disputed:

Jones, 31, serving a robbery sentence, suffered “sudden death during [a] struggle and restraint with chest compression,” Dr. James Gill, the chief state medical examiner, found. Gill also found that Jones, who had heart disease, suffered an adverse reaction to the pepper spray, and Gill ruled the death a homicide. State police are still investigating the case.

A lawsuit pursued by Jones’ partner, Lynette Richardson of Bristol, goes further. Lawyer A. Paul Spinella writes that as many as 10 corrections officers had drawn close to Jones as he was led into the mental health unit at Garner Correctional Institution in Newtown on March 25.

“On that date and time, although Jones was handcuffed, restrained, helpless and surrounded by as many as ten of the defendants, [officers] used pepper spray on Jones … then attacked and beat Jones while he was handcuffed, eventually breaking his neck.”

In contrast, a statement by the Department of Correction released after Jones’ death said that as Jones was being taken to the infirmary, he became “noncompliant and combative with staff” and then became “nonresponsive.”

Spokeswoman Karen Martucci said life-saving measures were immediately initiated and Jones was taken by ambulance to a community hospital where he was declared dead at about 12:25 p.m.

Spinella, a Hartford attorney, said the surveillance tape bears out the account in the family’s lawsuit.

The case names Commissioner Scott Semple, Warden Anthony Corcella, six corrections officers, two corrections lieutenants and two medical-unit employees.

The Jones lawsuit is the latest in a recent string of cases asserting malfeasance against the corrections department, though the others involve allegations of medical malpractice.

The homicide ruling does not necessarily mean someone intentionally caused Jones’ death, Gill said in an email to The Courant in June.

Attorney General George Jepsen’s office has several weeks to file a response to Jones’​​​​​​​ suit.

Beyond the allegations of excess force, the case also impugns the “hiring, supervision, training, discipline, and control” of the officers and other staff members, and says that no corrections department employee tried to stop the actions that led to Jones’​​​​​​​ death.

The events amounted to “gross negligence” and “deliberate indifference” to laws against “cruel and unusual punishment,” the lawsuit asserts.