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Sadistic New Jersey Prison Doctor's License Revoked Amid Allegations of Neglect, Malpractice

On November 13, 2002, the New Jersey Board of Medical Examiners revoked the license of Dr. John J. Napoleon following the most recent allegations that he was grossly negligent in the treatment of nine patients at the Bayside State Prison and Cape May County Jail. Napoleon was also ordered to pay over $53,000 in court costs and penalties by the board.

New Jersey deputy attorney general Paul R. Kenney argued that Napoleon, who served as the prison's medical director from 1968 to 1992, and held the same position at the jail until 1995, considered prisoners "unworthy" of medical care. Among the allegations in the most recent complaints were that Napoleon ignored a prisoner's complaint of chest pains the day before the prisoner suffered a fatal heart attack, and accusing another prisoner of faking symptoms the day before he died of a brain tumor.

Despite the numerous and serious allegations against the former doctor, Napoleon's lawyer, Mario A. Iavicloi, claimed the charges were "absolutely inconsistent" with Napoleon's record in private practice. But it is exactly that fact, his critic's say that demonstrates that Napoleon saw prisoners as a "sub-class," undeserving of medical treatment, and that led that Board of Medical Examiners to conclude that he had "contempt for some of his incarcerated patients."

The 13-member board's decision came after a seven year investigation and an administrative law judge's recommendation that Napoleon's license be revoked because of his treatment, or lack of it, of prisoners at the two facilities where he was employed. The Board of Medical Examiners upheld seven of the nine complaints the judge found against Napoleon. The board also ordered Napoleon, who had been a physician for 37 years and a Cape May County medical examiner for 17 years, to close his private practice and resign as a surgical assistant at a local hospital.

Even though the state attorney general's office led the most recent charge to oust Napoleon, it was that very same office that time and time again defended Napoleon against the myriad of lawsuits he faced as a result of his negligent and willful mistreatment of prisoners during his nearly 30 years as a prison and jail medical director.

In 1994, the state of New Jersey agreed to a $425,000 award to settle a lawsuit filed by six prisoners at the Bayside Prison. In the suit the plaintiff prisoners charged Napoleon with providing inadequate treatment for serious illnesses or denying then treatment altogether.

One of the plaintiff's in the suit, Michael Elkin, received $150,000 of the settlement for Napoleon's failure to provide him crucial medication for Elkin's rare skin disease, even though doctors at other prisons had been routinely providing it to him for 15 years.

Prisoner Charles Van de Velde said that Napoleon denied him medication for his epilepsy and that he suffered a massive seizure as a result. Van de Velde split the remaining $275,000 with the three other plaintiffs who were victims of Napoleon's neglect. Napoleon was ordered by the state attorney general to personally pay $50,000 of the settlement.

Another prisoner, who was a diabetic, was denied insulin by Napoleon while held in Cape May County Jail for two days on charges that were later dropped. The young prisoner nearly died from the lack of insulin, his lawsuit contended. The county settled that case for $50,000 with Napoleon paying an undisclosed amount.

Another prisoner, who did not sue Napoleon, claimed that when he complained of numbness in his hands while at Bayside prison in 1988, Napoleon held a lit match to his hands as part of the "examination." The man received no treatment from Napoleon, but later required surgery to correct the hand problem.

In 1984, Napoleon paid an undisclosed cash settlement to the family of a man who died of a heart attack while at Cape May County Jail.

In 1996, then-county jail prisoner Kenneth E. Querns, won a $21,250 settlement against Napoleon and the jail. Querns claimed that in 1994, during a six-month stay at the county jail, Napoleon denied him necessary medication for his ulcer and that he began vomiting blood and lost 51 pounds as a result. Napoleon also refused to approve a bland diet for Querns, despite the fact that he had been previously diagnosed with a duodenal ulcer. Querns is also pursuing a lawsuit against Napoleon in his individual capacity; the 1996 settlement only related to litigation against him as a county employee.

In addition, Napoleon was fired from his job at Bayside prison in 1992, not for mistreatment or neglect of his patients, but for failing to conduct a survey of prisoners as required by federal law.

Other allegations of incompetence and/or malpractice against Napoleon include, while medical examiner in 1993, diagnosing a homicide as a suicide, attributing a 20-year old woman's death in 1990 to intoxication and exposure when it was later proved she was murdered, and for performing medical examiner duties in the first place despite only being a general practitioner - not a pathologist.

Said Elkins's attorney, James Hammill, in 1994: "I just can't help keep wondering how this guy got his job and how he has kept it."

Others, too, have been critical of the now-former doctor, calling him a "poor man's Dr. Mengele," and noting that the job of a physician is "never to inflict punishment. The first rule is Do No Harm. It is cruel and unusual punishment to lock someone up and refuse them medical care."

What is disturbing, however, is that it took the state of New Jersey nearly 30 years to recognize and rid itself of a man who had such an obvious disregard for these very principles. Nonetheless, what is even more disturbing is the near certainty that, if he chose, Napoleon should have little trouble quickly finding employment in another state's prison system.

Sources: New York Times, Press of Atlantic City, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Record, The Associated Press, New Jersey Law Journal

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