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Mentally Ill Connecticut Prisoner Assaulted by Guard Awarded $250,000, Plus $121,384.80 in Fees

On March 3, 2006, a federal jury in Connecticut awarded $250,000 to a mentally ill state prisoner who was beaten by a high-ranking prison guard at the Northern Correctional Institution.

According to his amended complaint, Duane Ziemba, a mentally ill prisoner with a long history of self-destructive behavior and suicide attempts, was treated by psychiatrists at the Garner Acute Inpatient Medical Unit the prison system's psychiatric facility on August 11, 1998 after exhibiting symptoms of extreme agitation and anxiety. While at the Garner Unit, Ziemba was sedated with large doses of Ativan, an antipsychotic medication. The treating psychiatrist ordered that Ziemba be given 2mg of Ativan every six hours from August 12 through August 18.

On August 12, Ziemba was transferred to the Northern Correctional Institution. Rather than provide his prescribed medication, however, personnel at Northern decided the more therapeutic route was to restrain and beat him. Ziemba was placed in four-point restraints, which connected handcuffs to leg shackles, for 22 hours straight. Even when used appropriately, the Connecticut Department of Corrections (CDOC) own training manual recognizes such restraints can lead to injuries and fatalities.

While restrained, Ziemba was beaten and maced by Captain Sebastian Mangiafico in the presence of six other CDOC guards. During the ensuing 22 hours Ziemba was left face down on a steel bunk sans mattress, given no liquids, fed only once, and denied the psychotropic medications that had been prescribed at Garner. Ziemba was also prohibited from using the toilet and consequently urinated on himself. Moreover, Ziemba was never given a single dose of Ativan from August 12 to 18.

An investigation into the incident by the CDOC's Security Division found that Captain Mangiafico had used excessive force against Ziemba by striking him in the face and violently kneeling on Ziemba's back with the entire weight of his body. It was also determined that three of the guards on the scene had "failed to truthfully report what took place," and that the medical staff had "neglect[ed] to do a thorough assessment of Inmate Ziemba" despite his complaints of injury. Even with the Security Division's findings, however, the only person disciplined was Captain Mangiafico, who received a slap on the wrist in way of punishment -- five days suspension for "failure to supervise."

Ziemba filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut, claiming that prison personnel violated his constitutional rights by exhibiting deliberate indifference to his medical and safety needs, failing to protect him, and subjecting him to excessive force.
Along with Captain Mangiafico, Ziemba named as defendants CDOC Commissioner John Armstrong, Warden Giovanni Gomez, Lieutenant Dennis Oglesby, Registered Nurse Margaret Clark, and Medic Reginald McAllister.

A jury found that Captain Mangiafico had indeed violated Ziemba's civil rights by subjecting him to excessive force, awarding him $100,000 in compensatory damages and $150,000 in punitive damages, for a total award of $250,000. The jury found in favor of the defendants on the other claims. Ziemba was represented by Antonio Ponvert III of the Bridgeport, Connecticut firm of Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder, P.C., and James Nugent of the Orange, Connecticut firm Nugent and Bryant.

On December 28, 2006, Ziemba's motion for attorney fees was granted in the amount of $121,384.80 plus $4,738.66 in expenses. In a previous order the court had awarded an additional $2,750 to reimburse pre-approved expenses. Pursuant to the fee-shifting provision of the PLRA (42 U.S.C. § 1997e(d)(2)), the court directed that 25% of the judgment -- $62,500 -- be paid toward the attorney fees awarded.

The District Court judge commended Nugent and Ponvert for their hard work, noting that they "took this case after the court had great difficulty finding a lawyer for Ziemba and were then able to obtain for him a $250,000 judgment in his favor -- an exceptional verdict in the court's view." On the defendant's motion for a new trial and judgment as a matter of law the court affirmed the jury verdict and held the defendants were not entitled to qualified immunity from damages. The case is presently on appeal. See: Ziemba v. Mangiafico, 433 F. Supp. 2d 248 (D Ct. 2006).

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Related legal case

Ziemba v. Mangiafico