Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

$725,000 Award in Negligent Medical Care Suit Involving Poisoned New York Prisoner

A New York Court of Claims has awarded $725,000 to the estate of a prisoner who died due to medical neglect after being poisoned at the Sing Sing Correctional Facility.

Rodney Williams, 20, was three weeks from being released after serving a sentence for car theft when he died on October 9, 2003. At around 3:30 a.m. that day, Williams informed guard Clifford Mayfield that he was vomiting. While waiting for a supervisor to gain entry to Williams’ cell, Mayfield observed blood in the toilet and vomit on the side of the toilet and on the floor. Williams was incoherent, unable to stand without distress, and expressed a belief that his coffee had been poisoned by another prisoner.

Mayfield called Nurse Leacy J. Miller at Sing Sing’s emergency room (ER) to report Williams’ condition. She advised that he be taken to sick call at 7:00 a.m., but Mayfield convinced his supervisor that Williams “needed to get out of the cell ... we got to get him to that ER.”

At 5:30 a.m., Mayfield carried Williams, who was unable to walk, down two flights of stairs. At the ER, Williams informed Nurse Miller that he thought “somebody put something in my coffee.”

During trial in the lawsuit subsequently filed by Williams’ estate, Miller said she thought Williams looked drunk. The court noted, however, that she did not smell alcohol and that if he was drunk his condition required assessment for alcohol poisoning. Neither Miller nor the infirmary nurse, Tensie Robinson, made such an assessment.

Miller only took Williams’ vital signs and called a physician’s assistant. At first, the physician’s assistant, Po Kum Kwan, ordered Williams to be seen at sick call. However, when advised that he was unstable, urinating on himself, unable to sit up and thought he had been poisoned, she ordered him to be taken to the infirmary where she would see him later.

Williams arrived at the infirmary at 5:45 a.m. He was in a wheelchair and was lethargic and incontinent. He was placed in a room but Kwan was not allowed to treat him between 7:15 and 7:30 a.m. due to only one guard being available. Seeing he was not in distress in the dark room, she left without further examination beyond observing him through a window.

An examination was not attempted until between 8:30 and 9:00 a.m. when a doctor arrived, but by then Williams was dead. An autopsy revealed he had died from pulmonary edema caused by barium poisoning. Barium, which is used to kill rodents, can be found in the hair removal product MagicShave, which is commonly available in prison commissaries.

In its December 22, 2010 decision, the Court of Claims found that Sing Sing’s medical staff was negligent and Williams’ death could have been prevented. “Poison control should have been called, blood work should have been performed and IV fluids should have been administered,” the court wrote.

Williams’ estate was represented by attorneys Alan Fuchsberg and Elena Carter. See: Hartley v. State of New York, New York Court of Claims, UID No. 2010-010-060, Claim No. 111400.

Additional source: New York Daily News

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

Hartley v. State of New York