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Virginia Settles Juvenile Death Suit for $1.2 Million

In early April 2001, the Virginia Attorney General's office announced it had agreed to settle a wrongful death suit for $1.2 million. In the December 1999 issue of PLN we reported the death of Wallace Dandridge, 16, a developmentally disabled child at the Oak Ridge Juvenile Correctional Center in Richmond, Virginia. Dandridge had an IQ of 59, was mentally retarded, hyperactive, had suicidal tendencies, a violent temper and a history of assaults, self abuse, hospitalizations and run-ins with police and prison guards. On April 7, 1999, while on suicide watch in the prison hospital, Dandridge threw a cup of urine on a prison guard and punched another.

A group of seven guards then "subdued" Dandridge and left him handcuffed, strapped face down to a hospital bunk. Prison guards called the state police to formally charge Dandridge with assault. When a state trooper arrived at the prison 45 minutes later, he found Dandridge unconscious, with a shallow pulse. Dandridge died shortly after being taken to a local hospital.

A medical examiner classified Dandridge's death as both "accidental" and due to a heart attack. The specific cause of death was listed as "acute cardiac arrhythmia precipitated by stress and acute asphyxia." A source close to the investigation told local media that Dandridge "died of a heart attack because his larynx had closed up. There was bruising to his larynx such that he had difficulty in breathing, and the heart just tried to keep up with whatever oxygen it was getting."

Tyrone Manzy, Dandridge's uncle, had a different take on the medical examiner's report. "It [the ME's report] tells me there was a combination of things. That he was scared to death while he was being choked to death," Manzy said.

The FBI and state police investigated Dandridge's death, which resulted in no criminal charges. A Virginia Department of Corrections review of the incident found minor problems with how guards responded. Among them, that after shackling Dandridge, they should have placed him in a standing position, and checked him for asphyxia and injuries, and 911 should have been called as soon as Dandridge was found unresponsive. As a result of Dandridge's death, the Department of Juvenile Justice hired an inspector general and promised closer medical oversight of the Oak Ridge prison. The Department is also considering changes to its use of force and restraint policies.

Peter Grenier, the attorney who represented Vickie Dandridge, said, "Our client was very satisfied to see that there have been major changes made as a result of her son's death." The total settlement paid by the State is $1.2 million. Of that amount, Vickie Dandridge, Wallace's mother, will receive $623,135, and each of Wallace's three half siblings will receive $13,134 each. The remainder will go to attorneys' fees and costs. The suit was filed in Prince William County Circuit Court.

Source: Richmond Times Dispatch.

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