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Connecticut Pays $1,850,000 in Deaths of Two Prisoners Transferred to Virginia

by John E. Dannenberg

The Connecticut Department of Corrections (CDC) settled two claims in March 2002 totaling $1,850,000 for the wrongful deaths of a mentally ill prisoner and a severely diabetic prisoner who were transferred to a Virginia "supermax" prison solely due to overcrowding in Connecticut. Additionally, one of the prisoners' families sued the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) for $204 million for Virginia's involvement.

CDC, whose population grew from 2,750 in 1980 to 18,000 in 2002, contracted with VDOC to house 500 excess "high-security" prisoners in Virginia prisons. The contract specified that no prisoners with mental illnesses or serious medical problems would be transferred.

Nonetheless, CDC transferred David Tracy, a known suicidal 20 year-old with six months left to serve on his 2 year drug offense, to the Wallens Ridge, VA "supermax" facility - where Tracy hanged himself with a bed sheet. Although his CDC medical records indicated his suicidal attempt history, this information was allegedly not passed on to VDOC. CDC settled with Tracy's family for $750,000.

Lawrence Frazier, a 50 year old who was serving 30-60 years for rape, had a known serious medical history of diabetes and schizophrenia. He was likewise transferred without appropriately advising VDOC of his medical history. But VDOC was treating him for his diabetes, so they were clearly aware of it.

However, Wallens Ridge staff had no training or equipment to treat a diabetic shock condition. When Frazier suffered what guards took to be a heart attack, they strapped him down in five-point restraints and "treated" him with three shocks from an Ultron II stun gun.

The lawsuit filed in US District Court, Richmond, VA alleged that after Frazier was shocked with 50,000 volts, he was left alone in an infirmary cell, bleeding from the mouth - hands and feet still strapped to the bed. He was later found unconscious and taken to a hospital, where he died after five days. (PLN, December 2000, p.11, "Stun Gun Death In Virginia Prison.") Although VDOC's medical study claimed the stun gun played no role in Frazier's death, the autopsy proved otherwise. Use of the stun gun was temporarily suspended.

Named in the VA lawsuit were VDOC Director Ron Angelone, Wallens Ridge Warden Stan Young, prison doctor Larry Howard, several guards and nurses, and Correctional Medical Services, Inc., a St. Louis company that used to provide medical care at the prison, according to plaintiff's counsel, John Fishwick.

Early in 2002, CDC settled with Frazier's family for $1.1 million. The settlement dealt only with CDC's liability for transferring Frazier when his severe health problems made him an unsuitable candidate per the CDC-VDOC contract. VDOC was not a party to this settlement.

The claims against VDOC, now part of Frazier's family's $204 million civil rights lawsuit, allege that prison officials should have known that use of a stun gun for someone as ill as Frazier would cause complications. The suit goes on to accuse VDOC of inflicting emotional distress on Frazier's brother by shipping him Frazier's naked and unenbalmed corpse, covered only with a bloody sheet.

After the two deaths, all VDOC Connecticut "overflow" prisoners were moved from Wallens Ridge to Greensville (VA) Correctional Center, a medium security prison. In January, 2002, CDC unremittingly renewed its contract with VDOC, which charges only $64 per day per prisoner versus CDC's home cost of $92 per day. This $28 per day savings for the 500 transferred CDC prisoners will recoup the $1,850,000 cost of killing Tracy and Frazier in only 132 days. See: Estates of David Tracy and Lawrence Frazier v. CDC, Case No. 3:01-CV-362 (USDC, Conn.).

Additional source: Virginia CURE

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Related legal case

Estates of Tracy and Frazier v. Connecticut DOC