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$250,000 Settlement for Estate of PA Prisoner Killed by Mentally Ill Cellmate

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PDOC) paid $250,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by the estate of an elderly, handicapped prisoner who was killed by his psychotic cellmate at State Correctional Institution Forest.

Elwood Brasswell, 28, had a violent history attributed to his “acute psychotic behavior.” A diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia plus a charge of aggravated assault while he was incarcerated led to Brasswell being placed in a Restricted Housing Unit (RHU) with a Z-Code status, meaning he was not to be housed with another prisoner.

Fredrick Kirkland, 63, suffered from physical disabilities that required him to use a wheelchair and wear adult diapers. He was also afflicted with mental disabilities that affected his short-term memory, which resulted in frequent rule violations because he was unable to remember and comply with prison policies.

The complaint alleged that Special Needs Unit Manager Erin Wallace disliked Kirkland and instructed guards to issue misconduct violations against him with the goal of placing him in RHU. That goal was accomplished on August 21, 2012.

At around 1:30 a.m. the next day, Brasswell awoke to have a drink of water and eat two apples. He also decided to kill Kirkland. Brasswell later explained that he thought Kirkland was God and wanted his powers.

Brasswell lured Kirkland from his bed by explaining a nurse wanted him. As Kirkland approached the cell door, Brasswell repeatedly punched him in the back of the head until he dropped to the ground. He then repeatedly stepped on Kirkland’s head and placed a pillow over his face for about 20 minutes.

Once Kirkland was no longer moving, Brasswell tried to use his hands to break Kirkland’s neck. He then used torn bed sheet strips to hang Kirkland from the top bunk. Next, Kirkland’s body was placed on the bottom bunk and beaten with a sock full of soap.

Brasswell urinated and defecated on Kirkland’s body and rubbed feces on Kirkland’s face and mouth. Finally he attempted to bite off Kirkland’s penis, later explaining that that was the source of his power. Brasswell was subsequently found guilty but mentally ill of first-degree murder and sentenced to life without parole.

Surveillance video evidence established that guards made no rounds between 1:40 and 5:40 a.m., when a nurse arriving with medication discovered Kirkland’s body. Kirkland’s estate filed a civil rights action alleging an Eighth Amendment cruel and unusual punishment claim, and the PDOC agreed to settle the case following mediation. The estate was represented by attorney Susan N. Williams. See: Davis-Vining v. Wetzel, U.S.D.C. (W.D. Penn.), Case No. 1:13-cv-00309-MRH.

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Related legal case

Davis-Vining v. Wetzel