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Federal Government Pays $300,000 for Endangering Diabetic Prisoner With ‘Dramatically’ Subpar Care

by Benjamin Tschirhart

On May 25, 2022, a former federal prisoner agreed to accept $300,000 to settle claims he was subjected to unconstitutionally bad treatment for severe Type 1 diabetes while incarcerated by the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP).

From 2004 to 2018, Seifullah Chapman was held in several BOP facilities, including ADX Florence, a “supermax” facility in Florence, Colorado. Chapman’s condition requires constant monitoring. Even with proper care he is subject to attacks of hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Each attack potentially carries the risk of organ failure, blindness, stroke — even death. They also tend to slow cognition, making it difficult for Chapman even to know when he needs assistance.

BOP acknowledges three keys of diabetes management: medication, diet, and exercise. Failure to properly manage the most severe type of diabetes can result in conditions with a high risk of death — 10–15%. Yet while in federal custody, and especially in supermax, Chapman’s disease was mismanaged, he claimed.

Medical staff allegedly bungled his insulin administration, changing the dosage and failing to follow policy to administer it. They refused new batteries for his glucometer, he added. They forced him to use his own personal cache of medical supplies. They also limited how often he could check his blood sugar to a dangerously low three times a day.

Chapman also said meals were not served at consistent times, nor was he given information that allowed him to count carbohydrates — both essential components of dietary diabetes management. His ability to exercise was severely limited by confinement for at least 22 hours every day in a 75-square-foot cell, he said. Because of his frequent attacks of hyper- and hypoglycemia, he almost certainly suffered neural and organ damage.

After his release in 2018, Chapman retained attorneys Laura Rovner, Nicole Godfrey, and Aurora Randolph from the Civil Rights Clinic at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law. They filed a complaint for him in federal court for the District of Colorado. Making a claim under the Federal Tort Claim Act against the federal government, it also accused BOP medical staffers George Santini MD, Anthony Osagie PA, and Ronald Camacho PA under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 of deliberate indifference to Chapman’s serious medical needs.

All parties filed for summary judgment, which the district court denied on January 25, 2018. See: Chapman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 291 F. Supp. 3d 1260 (D. Colo. 2018). The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed that ruling on February 13, 2020. While the Constitution “‘does not mandate comfortable prisons,’” the Court said, “neither ‘does it permit inhumane ones,’” quoting Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337 (1981).

The defendant doctors claimed qualified immunity (QI). But the Court found the medical care they gave Chapman fell “dramatically short of medically acceptable standards. … Even for prisoners.” It denied their QI claims, “conclud[ing] that … each of [them] violated Mr. Chapman’s Eighth Amendment rights under clearly established law.” See: Chapman v. Santini, 805 F. App’x 548 (10th Cir. 2020).

The case returned to the district court. Trial was set for April 2022, but by then the parties were negotiating their settlement. Under its terms, they agreed to bear their own attorneys fees and costs. See: Chapman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, USDC (D. Colo.), Case No. 1:15-cv-00279.

Chapman, 49, was part of “a group of men in Virginia who played paintball in 2000 and 2001 as a means of combat training” in hopes of attending a militant Islamic training camp in Pakistan, according to The Intercept. His 65-year prison sentence was cut short in 2018 when his conviction for a “crime of violence” was vacated by a federal judge who ruled the statutory language was unconstitutionally vague. 

Additional sources: Colorado Politics, The Intercept

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