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USP Allenwood Prisoner Wins Over $775,000 in Deliberate Indifference Claim

Nunzio DeCarlo, a federal prisoner serving a 20-year sentence at the United States Penitentiary Allenwood, Pennsylvania for racketeering prevailed on a deliberate indifference and medical neglect claim against the United States of America. He was awarded over $775,000.00 in damages.

According to the complaint, at approximately 11:00 AM on December 22, 1997, while being held in the USP Allenwood Special Housing Unit, DeCarlo began experiencing chest pains, a burning sensation in his left arm, and an overwhelming feeling of nausea. His cellmate, William E. Nidiffer, pressed the duress alarm to notify staff of the medical emergency. After approximately 15 minutes of the medical alarm sounding Special Housing Unit guards arrived and DeCarlo indicated that he was having either a stroke or heart attack. It took another 10 minutes for medical personnel to arrive at his cell door.

DeCarlo further alleged that after being handcuffed, belly chained, and put into leg irons, he requested a wheelchair, as he was extremely weak. The USP Allenwood Special Housing Unit guard accompanying him denied the request, stating, "if [DeCarlo] wanted to go to the hospital he would have to walk there on his own two feet." USP Allenwood Lieutenant Cryor, an escort officer, also refused DeCarlo a wheelchair.

DeCarlo stated in his complaint that once he arrived at the USP Allenwood prison hospital, he was examined by Hospital Administrator Ronald A. Laino, P.A., Assistant Hospital Administrator R. Martinez, P.A., and Dr. Song K. Lee. He was scanned by an EKG machine, and prescribed aspirin and a nitrogen pill. DeCarlo was scanned by the EKG machine six more times over several hours.

After the tests, DeCarlo alleged that he was held in a prison hospital holding cell, with a padlocked toilet that he could not use for over 12 hours. He requested that he be moved to an outside hospital, as he was sure he was "on the brink of death," but physicians' assistants Laino and Martinez, along with Dr. Song, and physician's assistants Diane Schantz, Arbetnnce, and Pannell all allegedly denied that request.

A short time later, according to the complaint, DeCarlo's symptoms intensified. During this period another physician's assistant, Frimpong, attempted to insert an IV into DeCarlo's arm, but was unsuccessful. It was at this time that DeCarlo "believed that he would die from heart failure if he did not get to an outside hospital," according to the complaint. He was ultimately approved for an outside hospital, Williamsport Hospital, 20 miles away in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. On the way to the hospital, a paramedic said to the accompanying prison hospital staffer, "Can't you see this man is having a heart attack?"

Ultimately, DeCarlo underwent surgery due to his heart attack, and was advised by doctors that he may require a heart transplant. According to the complaint, DeCarlo's heart attack could have been treated with a medication that clears away blockages much earlier, and the failure to do so may have exasperated his condition.

On September 11, 2002, after a two day bench trial, judgment was entered on behalf of DeCarlo. According to the judgment, "[b]ased upon the negligence in handling Plaintiff DeCarlo's heart health care, the heart attack evolved from a minor heart attack to a massive myocardial infarction which caused significant damage."

The court found that DeCarlo's life expectancy was reduced by seven years due to the United States of America's negligence. DeCarlo was awarded $775,632.40 in total damages.

The complaint filed by DeCarlo was obtained by Prison Legal News after a 12-year battle with the Federal Bureau of Prisons over a Freedom of Information Act request.

Source: DeCarlo v. USA, No. 4:00-cv-1059 (M.D. Penn. filed June 13, 2000).

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Related legal case

DeCarlo v. USA