HARTFORD — A former inmate who suffered a traumatic brain injury while in custody at the York Correctional Institution for women in Niantic in 2014 has filed a $7.5 million medical-neglect claim against the Department of Correction.
Amy Rolon, then 36, was being held before trial on misdemeanor charges of sixth-degree larceny and failure to appear in court.
Incident reports, narratives and statements from correction officers, supervisors, nurses and fellow inmates lay out an agonizing 48 hours, with Rolon in the throes of heroin withdrawal, vomiting, seizing and repeatedly falling and hitting her head.
One of the most telling reports is a narrative by a supervisor, Lt. Christopher Brunelle, of one of the surveillance videos he reviewed. The tape captures a 20-minute period in which Rolon is seen falling out of her wheelchair more than once while staff members walk by, failing to pick her up or otherwise help.
"Inmate crawls out of cell on hands and knees as staff are walking towards her … [Two correction officers] walk past the inmate. Both officers staring at the inmate as they walk past and exit the unit …"
"Inmate attempts to get into wheelchair by herself. Staff do not assist," Brunelle reported.
"Inmate falls out of wheelchair and onto the floor … (E)veryone watches. No staff attempt to help her up," Brunelle writes.
Despite a court order saying she needed detoxification and medical attention upon her admission to York on Oct. 30, 2014, it is not until the morning of Nov. 1, after repeated falls in the shower of her cell and in front of the nurse's station, and a seizure with her mouth filling with blood from a bitten tongue, that she begins to receive sustained medical attention.
Several more hours would go by until a psychologist would say that Rolon needed to be seen at a hospital. By the time she was taken to the emergency room at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital in New London, she was in critical condition. She was transferred to the intensive care unit at Yale-New Haven Hospital and underwent surgery for bleeding and swelling of the brain on the evening of Nov. 1.
After her injury, the charges for which she had been held in lieu of $3,500 bail, were nolled by the prosecution. That means the charges weren't pursued and they were later dismissed.
Rolon, now 38 and the mother of five children aged 10-22, is partially paralyzed, cannot walk, is severely cognitively impaired and needs around-the-clock care, said her lawyer, Gerald Sack of West Hartford. She is living at the Grandview Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in New Britain.
"Based on the information we've received so far, it appears to be an obvious case of neglect," Sack said.
"It may grow worse as we complete our investigation. She had mental-health issues, was a heroin addict and she couldn't make bail. There was detox and medical attention specified by a judge on the mittimus," said Sack of the court order that typically accompanies a prisoner to a facility.
"Now the state will be paying the bill through Medicaid for her care for the rest of her life due to the negligence of its own employees," Sack said.
Rolon's complaint is filed with the claims commissioner. The state attorney general's office is preparing a response. Sack would need to get the permission of the claims office to go ahead with a lawsuit.
Correction officials acknowledged Thursday that four officers remain suspended with pay, and two nurses who worked for UConn Health's Correctional Managed Health Care unit resigned as a result of Rolon's treatment and injuries. The unit holds a controversial, no-bid contract with the DOC to provide medical and mental-health treatment to inmates. The contract is worth more than $80 million a year.
Correction Commissioner Scott Semple said in an interview Thursday that protocol appears to have been violated in the Rolon case. He said he views it as a situation "isolated to the employees whom we have suspended.
"These are serious allegations that could result in terminations," Semple said.
Nineteen months after Rolon said she suffered the injuries, an internal investigation by the DOC is just now wrapping up.
"It was a detailed, elaborate investigation," Semple said. "I expect the findings as early as next week."
Asked if Rolon's medical and mental-health needs were properly assessed when she entered the York prison, Semple said he couldn't "make that determination at this juncture. I can say that it is our practice to fully assess each inmate upon admission, despite what it says or doesn't say on the mittimus."
Upon learning on Nov. 1 of the gravity of Rolon's injuries, supervisors at York ordered a crime-scene investigation inside the prison. State police investigators were called and they documented the chain of events. No arrests have been made.
Cellmates who bunked with Rolon Oct. 30 through Oct. 31 reported repeatedly hitting the call button for medical attention as they watched Rolon lurch in and out of the shower, falling and sprawling on the floor. Nurses came in several times to give Rolon methadone and other medication, but she did not begin to received sustained medical attention until the morning of Nov. 1, after Rolon experienced a violent seizure and was restrained and placed on a stretcher, records show.
Rolon, who has been treated for mental illness, went to prison because she could not raise the $350 to $500 needed for a bail bond to secure her release, said Sack. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy this year has been pushing for bail reforms that would reduce the population of minor offenders being held before trial.
Michael Lawlor, Malloy's director of criminal justice policy, said some low-risk inmates with serious medical and mental-health needs would be better served at a hospital rather than in prison.