Marcy, NY – The family of an inmate who died by suicide at a Central New Work prison has been awarded 1.5 million after a wrongful death lawsuit against the state.
In May 2016, the father of 22-year-old Lonnie Lamont Hamilton, an inmate at the Marcy Correctional Facility, was concerned. He had not heard from his son since Christmas 2015 and wanted to check on him.
Hamilton’s sister and aunt went to check the state Department of Correction and Community Supervision (DOCCS) inmate records. To their shock, Hamilton was listed as deceased. No one had notified his family.
Lonnie Lamont Hamilton, of the Bronx, died by hanging on March 18, 2016 in the Special Housing Unit of the Marcy Correctional Facility, according to court documents filed with the State of New York Court of Claims. The medium-security prison, which houses about 1,600 inmates, is about 7 miles north of Utica.
One day after his death, Hamilton was buried on the prison grounds in a plywood box, according to court documents. His family learned of his death around two months later when they checked online.
In the next few years, as the family filed a claim against the prison, more details came out that revealed correctional officers were culpable for the untimely death of the 22-year-old, according to a ruling by a judge who heard the case.
“Negligent supervision was a substantial factor in causing Lonnie’s death,” according to the judge’s decision filed. last week.
Hamilton was serving time in prison for third-degree robbery. He was sentenced to two to six years, a sentence he began in Jan. 2015.
It was immediately clear, based on his answers on prison intake forms, that he had a history of self-harm and suicidal ideation, according to the judge’s decision.
“On a form entitled Reception / Suicide Prevention Screening Guidelines,” the judge said in the decision, “it is noted that Lonnie previously attempted suicide by hanging and felt he had nothing to look forward to.”
Hamilton was transferred to Marcy Correctional Facility in Feb. 2016, according to court documents. He was immediately confined to the Special Housing Unit, a type of solitary confinement, to serve a 45-day disciplinary penalty.
Inmates in SHU are only released for one hour of recreation a day, the rest of their time is spent in isolation.
After Hamilton had threatened self-harm, a representative from the state Office of Mental Health performed a suicide-risk assessment. The representative determined that he was a risk and transferred him to a mental health facility at another correctional facility, according to the judge’s decision.
Despite telling councilors at the facility that he would kill himself if he were to return to Marcy, he was transferred back to March on Feb. 22, 2016, the judge said.
On March 15, Hamilton was placed on a suicide watch after again threatening to harm himself, the judge said. On March 16, Hamilton was removed from the watch.
Two days later, he hung himself.
On the day of Hamilton’s death, a corrections officer observed him standing on his bed at 11 am, according to the officer’s testimony. The officer did not speak to Hamilton.
About 24 minutes later, when the officer checked the cell again, Hamilton was hanging from a ceiling vent with a bedsheet tied around his neck.
The officer did not immediately attend to Hamilton, according to his testimony. He called out the inmate’s name and called a fellow correctional officer over when Hamilton didn’t respond, he told the court.
The two officers observed that Hamilton’s feet appeared to be touching the bed and the floor and his hand was clenched in a fist. The two men decided not to go inside the cell, fearing it was a trap, they said.
The officers called a sergeant who immediately directed them to go inside and remove Hamilton from the bedsheet and perform life-saving measures, the judge said in the decision.
At the trial, Hamilton’s family called a former deputy warden of programs from the New York City Department of Corrections, Francis Rosato-Maurino, as an expert witness to comment on the actions of the corrections officers.
She testified that the correction officers violated the applicable standard of care by not immediately entering the cell and assisting Hamilton even if they believed he was faking the incident.
The judge found that the state was liable for Hamilton’s pain, suffering and death as a result of negligent supervision.
As a result, Hamilton’s father was awarded 1.1 million as reasonable compensation for his son’s conscious pain and suffering before his death.
The court of clams also ruled that the prison administrators did not take the proper steps to notify the family of their loved one’s passing. The facility chaplain, who was tasked with contacting the family, failed to reach them by phone but never sent them a letter or contacted local law enforcement to reach out.
By burying Hamilton without exhausting all methods of contacting the family, the prisoner violated the right of sepulcher, which the law describes as the right to choose and control the burial of a deceased person.
Hamilton’s father was granted an additional $ 400,000 based on the emotional damage he sustained from having to witness the exhumation of his son’s body because they were not given the opportunity to properly bury him.
The lawsuit also filed a complaint for wrongful death, but that action was dismissed. This claim was dismissed because the family could not prove that they suffered financial losses as a result of this complaint, according to court documents.
The family’s lawyer, Zachary Giampa of Giampa Law, said that these cases are rarely won and praised the court for forcing the state to face some accountability for the safety of inmates.
Hamilton’s body was removed from the prison ground and he was given a funeral held with a closed casket in his hometown, the Bronx.
Staff writer Anne Hayes covers breaking news, crime and public safety. Have a tip, a story idea, a question or a comment? You can reach her at email@example.com.