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Virginia: Stun Gun Implicated In Death, CMS Implicated In Coverup

by Michael Rigby

Documents filed as part of a $204 million lawsuit directly, contradict the
Virginia Department of Correction's (DOC) initial assertion that a stun gun
played no role in the death of Lawrence James Frazier, and may implicate
Correctional Medical Services (CMS) in a wider coverup. The documents were
filed in federal district court in Roanoke between July and October, 2003,
as part of the lawsuit brought by Frazier's family against the DOC, CMS,
and prison doctor Larry Howard.

Frazier, a diabetic, was one of roughly 500 Connecticut prisoners being
held in Virginia prisons under state contract. The lawsuit contends that on
June 29, 2000, while imprisoned at the Wallens Ridge State Prison, a
Virginia supermax, Frazier was repeatedly hit with 50,000 volts from the
Ultron II stun device as he struggled with guards. Frazier, bleeding from
the mouth, was then strapped to a gurney and left unattended; he lapsed
into a diabetic coma and died five days later. A coroner's report
determined that Frazier, 50, died of a heart problem "due to stress while
being restrained following stunning with the Ultron II stun device."
Soon after Frazier's death, the DOC commissioned a study by a private
consultant. Not surprisingly, the study concluded that the stun gun played
no part in Frazier's death.

CMS also had an independent consultant look into Frazier's death. The
undated report by Dr. John Barnett was made public in late July, 2003, when
it was filed in court. The report details a visit Barnett made to Wallens
Ridge shortly after Frazier's death. Most damning to the DOC, Barnett
concluded that the stun gun contributed to Frazier's death. The report
"confirms what we have long thought about this incident," stated David
Fathi, an attorney with the National Prison Project in Washington. "The
Ultron II is a lethal force and should not be used on someone who had the
kind of medical problems that Mr. Frazier had."

Barnett also criticized Wallens Ridge warden Stanley K. Young, saying that
he "refused to provide access to patients and refused to provide a suitable
place to examine them. The DOC should consider his removal."

Roanoke attorneys John Fishwick Jr. and John Lichtenstein, who represent
the family, claim they did not learn of Barnett's report until 3 years
later. On August 14, 2003, they filed a motion accusing CMS of withholding
information, which included documents detailing the firing of prison doctor
Larry Howard. According to the documents, Howard stated at a meeting with
DOC and CMS officials in July 2000 that he believed the stun gun played a
part in Frazier's death. He was immediately fired. CMS spokesman Ken Fields
said Howard's employment was terminated because the DOC decided to ban him
from Wallens Ridge. "The Department of Corrections made the decision to
lock Howard out of the facility. That is substantiated by the evidence in
this case, including the deposition of at least one official."

In late August, 2003, both sides agreed to have the case mediated by United
States Magistrate Judge Glen Conrad.

Filings in early October, 2003, allege that the family had recently learned
that an automatic external defibrillator at the prison could have saved
Frazier's life. The documents contend that the CMS doctor who treated
Frazier was unaware of the defibrillator, and that a company nurse was not
trained to use it. Wallens Ridge terminated its contract with CMS in
January 2001.

Frazier's family has already prevailed in one lawsuit over his death. In
2002, the state of Connecticut agreed to pay $1.1 million to settle a
lawsuit that alleged Frazier never should have been transferred to Virginia
because of his medical condition.

[PLN has reported extensively on Frazier's death and the brutal conditions
at Wallens Ridge.]

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