DOC contractor, commissioner sued for ‘criminally negligent homicide’

DOVER — The surviving family of an inmate, Luis Cabrera, who died in Department of Correction (DOC) custody last year filed a lawsuit Tuesday alleging that prison staff was “criminally negligent” in providing medical care — resulting in his death from a “treatable” condition.

Connections CSP — the DOC medical contractor — outgoing Commissioner Perry Phelps, Bureau Chief of Correctional Healthcare Services Marc Richman and warden Kolawole Akinbayo are all named as defendants.

On Tuesday, a DOC spokeswoman said: “The DOC cannot comment on pending litigation.”

Cabrera, 49, was reported dead by DOC staff on Nov. 8 last year at Howard R. Young Correctional Institution. At the time, he was both a plaintiff in a civil lawsuit against the state alleging inhumane prison conditions and a potential witness in an ongoing criminal trial stemming from the deadly Feb. 1, 2017, prison riot at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna. Cabrera was among the population of C Building (the site of the riot) during the incident.

At the time, the DOC said foul play was not suspected. Cabrera was serving three life sentences plus an additional 44 years for three counts of first-degree murder, three counts of conspiracy, two counts of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony and first-degree burglary.

Filed by Dover attorney Stephen Hampton, the new lawsuit alleges that Cabrera “was maliciously denied necessary medical care for over two days despite his screams and cries for help.” According to a medical examiner’s autopsy the cause of death was a “perforated duodenal ulcer,” which the complaint claims is a “treatable condition if timely proper care is given.”

“Under Delaware law, denying proper care to a man suffering from an obviously serious medical condition, could be seen as criminally negligent homicide,” the complaint reads.

Claiming to have a log of sick call requests that show Cabrera was reporting stomach issues since Feb. 27, 2018, the lawsuit calls medical staff’s conduct “negligent, intentional, wanton, willful and malicious.” It further claims that as Cabrera’s condition worsened in November the defendants “ignored or disregarded the signs and symptoms that strongly suggested that Luis Cabrera had an abdominal condition requiring prompt surgical intervention.”

The lawsuit’s plaintiffs, Cabrera’s wife Stephanie and daughter Ashley are suing for compensatory and punitive damages.

Mr. Hampton is also representing more than 100 inmates — one of whom was Cabrera — in a lawsuit against the state stemming from the 2017 riot.

That 80-page complaint alleges “inhumane conditions” at Vaughn and states that prison personnel “illegally abused, mistreated and tortured inmates with virtually nothing being done by their JTVCC (James T. Vaughn Correctional Center) or DOC supervisors, to stop them.”

Contractor investigated

It was announced in mid-May the state’s attorney general would investigate Connections CSP regarding allegations that staffers were ordered to forge documents to falsely state that inmates were getting mental health treatment they never received.

Allegedly, the DOC did its own review of the claims and found nothing wrong. But, Gov. John Carney’s administration and the Department of Justice felt it wasn’t sufficient.

The investigation is only the latest sign of problems within the state’s prison health system, which was the target of a federal investigation more than a decade ago.

“It’s upsetting that so many years down the road, and we’re still not apparently getting what we’re paying for,” Gov. Carney said when the investigation was announced. “That’s just unacceptable.”

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