In April 2015, a jury in Spokane, Washington awarded $8 million to the family of a 57-year-old prisoner described as a “brittle diabetic” who was allowed to die when state prison guards, rather than seeking medical attention, restrained him after he went into hypoglycemic shock. The verdict was twice the amount the family had sought, the Spokesman Review reported.
Dale Stahl, whose Type 1 diabetes frequently caused large swings in his blood sugar level, died on April 7, 2012 while incarcerated at the Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC). According to court documents and a report by the Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office, his cause of death was “natural” due to athresclerotic coronary artery disease, with diabetes listed as a contributing factor.
During the incident when Stahl died, he became incoherent and began flailing his arms and legs. Instead of summoning medical help, guards assumed it was a behavioral issue and handcuffed him. They pinned Stahl face-down on the floor and held him there until after he was dead, said family attorney Nathan Roberts.
“In essence, these staff had been restraining a corpse,” he wrote in court pleadings.
AHCC staff members were aware of Stahl’s medical condition as he had been at the prison for six months. That made his death all the more inexcusable, his family said. Stahl’s daughter, Brittany Haun, added the Department of Corrections (DOC) provided no answers in the aftermath of her father’s death, and the medical examiner’s office said prison staff “weren’t honest” with them “in terms of describing the manner of death.”
According to Roberts, at the time of Stahl’s diabetic episode his cellmate called for help and told the guards that he thought Stahl’s blood sugar was low. When emergency responders eventually were called to the scene, they found Stahl handcuffed, not breathing and without a pulse.
“It’s a tragic situation when an offender passes away in custody and our thoughts and concerns are with the Stahl family,” said DOC Assistant Secretary of Prisons Steve Sinclair. “The DOC strives to provide a safe and healthy environment for offenders, including appropriate medical care.”
Beyond that, prison officials said a critical incident review was conducted following Stahl’s death, but did not provide details as to the results of that investigation.
Stahl’s family had sued requesting $4 million; after hearing the case, the jury awarded twice that amount. Rather than enduring a lengthy appeals process, the family agreed in July 2016 to accept a settlement of $6.5 million. See: Stahl v. State of Washington, Spokane County Superior Court (WA), Case No. 142000175.
Sources: www.spokesman.com, Associated Press
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