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$1.65 Million Settlement Reached in Connecticut Prisoner’s Death from Untreated Lupus

by David M. Reutter

On July 7, 2021, the Connecticut Department of Corrections (DOC) paid $1.65 million to settle a lawsuit alleging medical personnel failed to diagnose and treat a 19-year-old state prisoner who died of lupus.

The settlement resolves a lawsuit brought by the estate of Karon Nealy, Jr. Not long after his arrest in September 2014, he ended up at the Manson Youth Institute (MYI), which is for prisoners under 21, to await trial on assault charges.

Nealy made his first sick call on October 2, 2014, complaining of pain in his elbow joint. A nurse gave him ibuprofen and sent him back to his cell. He returned two weeks later, reporting a sore throat that had lasted three days, and again a week after that, reporting bug bites that the nurse could not see. Again he was given ibuprofen each time and returned to his cell.

After missing a sick call the following month, he was seen by a doctor, Gerald Valletta, on December 18, 2014. Nealy complained of joint pain, so Valletta ordered blood tests, which came back normal. Meanwhile Nealy got into an altercation with a guard that landed him in segregation. From there he placed another sick call in January 2015, complaining of pain all over, again receiving ibuprofen.

Another sick call complaining of joint pain and swelling on February 7, 2015, was again met with ibuprofen. The same happened several times over the winter and early spring, when he was convicted on his assault charge in April 2015 and sent back to MYI to finish serving a two-year sentence.

During this period he also began to turn pale and lose his hair, according to a lawsuit later filed on his behalf. Hair loss and poor extremity circulation are common symptoms of lupus, a chronic disease that causes systematic inflammation affecting multiple organs.

His physical condition deteriorated, the complaint continued, and Nealy grew weak. His bones cracked, his fingernails discolored from poor circulation, and he got skinny. For all of that, Nealy’s medical care continued to consist entirely of ibuprofen.

As his condition deteriorated, Nealy rarely got out of his bunk. His requests for medical care were ignored by guards, and medical officials continued to treat him with nothing more than ibuprofen. On June 27, 2015, Nealy began foaming at the mouth and experiencing seizures. He was transported to a hospital, where it was determined he had lupus. But it was too late to save him. Nealy was removed from life support on July 27, 2015.

PLN has previously reported the poor care provided to DOC prisoners by its medical contractor, UConn Health’s Correctional Managed Health Care (CMHC). [See PLN, Aug. 2019, p.34; and May 2020, p.36.] The complaint filed by Nealy’s estate in U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut on July 26, 2018, claimed DOC was aware of CMHC’s understaffing and inadequate medical care, which threatened the health and lives of prisoners, but rather than do something about the matter DOC allegedly engaged in a cover-up.

The Court denied a motion for summary judgment by Dr. Valletta on March 19, 2021. See: Staten v. Semple, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 52037 (D. Conn.). Shortly afterward, the estate’s attorneys secured a resolution from the state General Assembly authorizing them to sue the state for CMHC’s negligence on June 8, 2021. See: CTHJ00211.

The parties then proceeded to reach their settlement agreement, which resolves all claims relating to Nealy’s death, including state claims. As part of the settlement, the state also waived its right to seek $54,768 in incarceration costs, $17,299.95 in medical costs, and $170,299.95 in cash assistance provided to Nealy and his mother, Keshanna D. Staten.

“Nothing’s gonna bring this kid back,” said DeVaughn Ward, one of the estate’s attorneys. “It’s certainly less than what we had it valued at, but rather it gives resolution to his mom and his seven-year-old daughter.”

With his co-consul, Kenneth Krayeske, Ward previously secured a $1.3 million settlement in August 2018 for Wayne World, a state prisoner whose skin cancer was misdiagnosed and treated as psoriasis by CMHC before it metastasized and spread to his liver. [See: PLN, Feb. 2019, p.32.]

Ward called the duo’s latest legal victory for Nealy’s estate “a small down payment on some restorative justice for his family.” See: Staten v. Semple, USDC (D.Conn.), Case No. 3:18-cv-01251.  

Additional source: CT Mirror

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Related legal case

Staten v. Semple