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Delaware Prisoners Sue DOC Alleging Sexual Assaults by Prison Doctor

In a case of alleged staff misconduct at a Delaware prison, nine prisoners filed suit in Sussex County Superior Court alleging that a former prison doctor sexually assaulted them on numerous occasions.

The prisoners’ lawsuit claims that Dr. Lawrence McDonald committed the assaults under the pretext of performing medical exams, and that his practices were so well known at Sussex Correctional Institution (SCI) that other employees referred to him as “Dr. Feelgood” and “the finger.”

McDonald is alleged to have performed unnecessary rectal exams, often without gloves, and “repeatedly touched, fondled, and digitally penetrated inmates ... for no legitimate medical reason.” One prisoner alleged he was fondled when he sought medical care for a rash on his face. Another prisoner said that Dr. McDonald made him say “thank you, doctor” after McDonald performed rectal exams on him. Another prisoner claimed McDonald stuck a needle in his groin for no apparent medical purpose.

The lawsuit states that prison officials ignored repeated complaints about McDonald’s misconduct and defended him against such allegations, retaliating against prisoners who complained. According to the suit, “Inmates complaining about the sexual abuse were often harassed, ridiculed or abused.”

Stephen Hampton, the attorney representing the prisoners, said all of them had serious, ongoing medical issues. One had hepatitis C, which was not discovered until after Dr. McDonald left the prison.

Prisoner Theodore Barrett alleged that he was called “snitch of the month” over the prison intercom after he accused McDonald of misconduct. The suit further claims that a prison psychiatrist was pressured to “be a team player” and ignore prisoners’ complaints. The psychiatrist reported this to the DOC commissioner.

Delaware’s prisons have been the stage for numerous complaints of staff misconduct in recent years. For example, former guard Christopher Peck pleaded guilty to having sex with multiple prisoners, and was sentenced to three years in prison in June 2014. [See: PLN, July 2014, p.56]. The previous year another guard, James Apgar, was suspended with pay after being accused of putting Ajax or Comet into bread given to several prisoners, sickening them. The prisoners filed suit and settled the case in August 2015. See: Rushing v. Apgar, U.S.D.C. (D. Del.), Case No. 1:13-cv-01103-GMS.

The lawsuit against Dr. McDonald was removed to federal district court; Correct Care Solutions, LLC, the private company that employed McDonald at SCI, was also named as a defendant, as was SCI Health Services Administrator Jill Mosser, warden G.R. Johnson, deputy warden Linda Valentino and Connections Community Support Programs, Inc.

On September 25, 2015 the district court ruled on the defendants’ motions to dismiss and motion for judgment on the pleadings. The court found that the prisoners had properly filed an affidavit of merit as required by Delaware law for medical malpractice claims; that several of the plaintiffs’ claims were subject to dismissal due to the statute of limitations; and that some plaintiffs had exhausted administrative remedies by filing grievances which received no response from prison officials, while others failed to file grievances due to fear of retaliation, which was sufficient for exhaustion purposes at this stage of the proceedings. The court also dismissed several defendants due to lack of personal involvement.

Accordingly, the district court granted the defendants’ motions in part and denied them in part. The case remains pending. See: Barrett v. McDonald, U.S.D.C. (D. Del.), Case No. 1:14-cv-00742-LPS.

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Related legal cases

Rushing v. Apgar

Barrett v. McDonald