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$168,500 Awarded in Prisoner's Death

Gregory Stampley, 46, was convicted in 1993 of kidnapping and making terroristic threats. He was sentenced to eight years and sent to the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Stillwater. Prison doctors who examined him diagnosed paranoid schizophrenia, aggressive-personality disorder and bipolar disorder.

According to court documents, on Jan. 13 or 14, 1994, his mental condition appeared to deteriorate. He was reportedly walking around naked, flooding his cell and speaking in a bizarre fashion. At one point he was tied to a "restraint board" when he became agitated. On Jan. 16 he was moved to ad-seg where his cell's water supply was allegedly turned off. Stampley reportedly drank from his toilet (which sounds bizarre until you realize that the water to his sink was shut off). Subsequently, on Jan. 17 he was moved to a more restrictive cell (presumably a "dry" cell).

He was seen by a psychologist on Jan. 18, and on Jan. 20, the possibility of moving him to a mental health unit at another prison was discussed. The transfer never took place, however, because the next day he was found dead on the floor of his ad-seg cell, his face in his own urine and vomit. He died of a perforated gastric ulcer.

In response to a civil suit filed by the dead prisoner's mother, Neva Stampley, the state of Minnesota and its Department of Corrections (DOC) have agreed to change the way they handle mentally ill prisoners and to pay $168,500 to Stampley's family. The terms were part of a settlement approved April 22, 1996, in Washington County District Court in Stillwater, Minn.

Gregory Stampley's mother could have settled for more money last year or might have received more money had the case gone to trial, said her attorney, Larry Leventhal. Instead, he said, she sought changes in prison procedures that might prevent similar needless deaths in the future.

After Stampley's death, the DOC was cleared of wrongdoing by its own investigation and an independent medical examiner's review. Patricia Seleen, the state corrections ombudsman, conducted a separate investigation. In a 1995 report to the Governor, Ms. Seleen stated that a restraint board was not needed in Stampley's case, that guards were inadequately trained to handle mentally ill prisoners and that immediate improvements were needed.

"The Department of Corrections has failed to provide treatment for mentally ill patients in a timely manner," she wrote, and policies for "diagnosis and treatment of severely mentally ill inmates are not adequate."

Among the changes the DOC agreed to in the settlement were increased availability of psychologists; limitations on use of restraining boards called four-point restraints; training for staff members in handling mentally ill patients throughout the corrections system; expanded phone privileges for prisoners who are mentally ill, and formation of two state committees to supervise the handling of mentally ill prisoners. Neva Stampley will be allowed to play a role in recommending committee appointments.

Despite the changes, however, another part of the settlement stipulated that the DOC admits no wrongdoing related to Stampley's death, even though the suit alleges that Stampley was assaulted by guards and doctors for his family testified that his death resulted from mistreatment.

"He was not assaulted," said Deputy Corrections Commissioner Jim Bruton. "He was treated with the utmost decency and respect."

Neva Stampley, speaking at her attorney's office after the settlement, said she feels hopeful. "I never want another woman or young man to go through what me son went through," she said. "It was so inhumane."

Source: Minneapolis Star Tribune

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