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Federal Lawsuit Claims Negligence Caused Pennsylvania Prisoner’s Heroin Overdose Death

A federal lawsuit alleges that officials at the Schuylkill County Prison in Pennsylvania were negligent in the 2013 death of a prisoner from an accidental drug overdose. The suit, filed on March 24, 2015, came almost a year after the findings of a coroner’s inquest which determined that negligence did, in fact, play a role in the death of Matthew Konscler, five days after his 21st birthday and four days after he reported to the facility to begin serving a three-to-18 month sentence for possession with intent to deliver and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Konscler’s mother, Sherry Konscler, filed the suit in U.S. District Court for the Middle District against Schuylkill County, the county prison board and warden Eugene Berdanier, as well as the prison’s private healthcare provider, PrimeCare Medical, nine medical assistants and nurses, three unidentified prison guards and guard Robert Murton, who discovered Konscler unresponsive in his cell. The suit seeks at least $150,000 in compensatory damages plus punitive damages, attorney fees and costs.

Konscler had reported to the county prison on March 27, 2013 to begin serving his sentence. During the intake screening, he admitted to prison medical personnel that he was a heavy user of alcohol and Xanax, and was addicted to heroin and a narcotic pain medicine. The lawsuit alleges that prison guards and medical staff failed to monitor Konscler during detoxification, and failed to prevent him from receiving contraband drugs passed by other prisoners under his cell door.

It is “imperative that inmates receiving detoxification medications be monitored closely” to ensure they are taking all of their prescribed medications and not taking any other drugs, the complaint states. “The medical staff and corrections officers failed to properly monitor the inmates, including [Konscler] during the medication administration process.”

The suit also alleges that prison officials were aware of the failure to monitor Konscler but did nothing to correct that deficiency. Further, prison officials were unaware that contraband drugs were passed to Konscler under his cell door even though security cameras kept watch.

“Despite video surveillance, the corrections officers failed to detect even one episode of contraband being passed,” the lawsuit states.

Konscler complained to cellmates of a headache and pain around his eyes at about 11:00 p.m. on March 30. During the night, one prisoner noticed that Konscler had stopped snoring and, upon checking, found him unresponsive with a purplish color to his skin. The cellmates began banging on the door to summon a guard, but no one responded until a kitchen worker heard the noise the following morning at around 7:30 and alerted Murton. Konscler was pronounced dead at 8:25 a.m.

An autopsy determined that Konscler died of “mixed substance toxicity,” meaning he had ingested too much of too many drugs. Addiction treatment specialist Dr. Carol Ann Littzi said the autopsy tests also revealed that Konscler had ingested heroin within eight hours of his death, meaning he had taken the drug while incarcerated.

Sherry Konscler’s suit contends that prison officials were deliberately indifferent to her son’s medical needs from the moment he entered the facility.

“Despite a history of multiple drug addictions, Matthew Konscler was not examined by a physician at any time during his stay at the Schuylkill County Prison,” according to the lawsuit. “Defendants are responsible for ensuring the health, safety and well-being of inmates placed under their custody and control, and are responsible for enacting, enforcing and administering appropriate policy, procedure and practices to carry out this function.”

“As a direct ... result of Defendants’ deliberate indifference to [Konscler’s] constitutional rights ... [he] was provided with heroin and other opiate drugs ... resulting in serious physical injury, pain and suffering, mental anguish and death from an accidental overdose,” the complaint continues.

The 2014 coroner’s inquest, the first such proceeding in the county in about two decades, was convened after Coroner Dr. David J. Moylan III and District Attorney Christine A. Holman decided they wanted a jury to help resolve unanswered questions surrounding Konscler’s death. After hearing the evidence, the six-person jury determined that while a drug overdose was responsible for Konscler’s death, negligence also played a role.

“There was neglect,” the jury ruled.

“I think justice was served,” Holman said after the findings were released. “The six jurors hit the nail on the head. There are some necessary changes that will have to be implemented.”

Moylan added that he wants to ensure another death like Konscler’s does not occur at the prison. Meanwhile, the lawsuit filed by Konscler’s mother remains pending. See: Konscler v. Schuylkill County, U.S.D.C. (M D. Penn.), Case No. 3:15-cv-00588-JMM.


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Related legal case

Konscler v. Schuylkill County