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Pennsylvania DOC, Mental Health Contractor Settle Wrongful Death Suit for $27,500

by Derek Gilna

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) have agreed to pay $15,000 to the estate of a mentally ill prisoner who was killed after being attacked by another prisoner in February 2015. 

The March 2018 settlement ended a suit brought by the family of Job Knighton, 33, against officials at SCI Albion after he suffered an unprovoked punch to the head, was stabbed in the left cheek with a plastic pen and slammed to the floor by fellow prisoner Trevon Coleman. Knighton lost consciousness and died five days later. 

Coleman reportedly did not receive adequate treatment for his mental health condition, which resulted in the fatal attack.

SCI Albion had previously been cited for deficiencies in supervising its contractors that provide medical and mental health care. The complaint filed by Knighton’s estate alleged the defendants “ignored obvious and serious risks in [their] approach to monitoring the vendor contract ... denied adequate mental health care to prisoners; [and] deprived prisoners with serious mental illness of adequate mental health care.”

The estate also argued it was common knowledge that there was poor medical record-keeping at the prison, and that “the Defendants knew and/or encouraged and/or silently acquiesced in the deficient oversight mechanisms which prevented SCI Albion from adequately addressing systematic failures in its mental health program and the harmful effects of its program on prisoners with serious mental illness.”

Additionally, according to the complaint, “All of the Defendants knew and/or encouraged management staff to not routinely observe and/or monitor mental health contractors of SCI Albion, thereby increasing the risk for harm, and in deliberate indifference to the health, safety and welfare of all inmates, specifically Job Knighton.”

As a result, his estate argued the defendants “knowingly disregard[ed] the objective and/or excessive risk [that Coleman] posed to his own safety and other inmates and SCI staff while incarcerated at SCI Albion, [but] Defendants ignored and chose to not recognize that [he] presented an objective and/or excessive risk of violence to other persons due to his severe mental health condition which affected his ability to make decisions....”

The DOC’s mental health contractor, MHM Services, agreed to pay $12,500 to settle its part of the wrongful death suit, resulting in a total payment of $27,500.

The modest amount of the settlement reflected the difficulty of proving liability for injuries suffered by a prisoner in an altercation with another prisoner. See: Lord d.b.n. administrator of the Estate of Job Knighton v. Coleman,U.S.D.C. (W.D. Penn.), Case No. 1:17-cv-00019-BR.

Coleman, 29, pleaded guilty to murdering Knighton and was sentenced to an additional 18 to 36 years in prison. 


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Related legal case

Lord d.b.n. administrator of the Estate of Job Knighton v. Coleman