The state has paid $1.2 million to the estate of an inmate with mental retardation who died in 2008 after being kept naked for 11 days in solitary confinement and developing hypothermia.
Records from the state Insurance Reserve Fund also show the state paid an additional $199,000 to its private lawyers in the case, which was cited last year by former state Circuit Judge Michael Baxley in his landmark, 45-page order finding the state Department of Corrections had violated the rights of inmates with severe mental illness.
The estate of Jerome Laudman sued individual officers in the case in federal court and filed suit against the prison system in state court. Both cases were settled last year, records show, with the federal suit being dismissed and the state agreeing to pay $1.2 million in the state case.
“We settled the case for 1.2 million,” Corrections Director Bryan Stirling said. “Corrections continues to make significant changes and improvements for the safety and security of officers and staff, inmates and the community.”
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Sen. Mike Fair of Greenville, chairman of the Senate Corrections and Penology Committee, said of the settlement that “$1.2 million doesn’t bring this man back to life. ... (But) hopefully the family can have closure on that.”
Scott Evans, a lawyer for the Laudman estate, said the family of Laudman feels the settlement was a fair one. He said the maximum amount that can be paid in a state medical negligence claim in South Carolina is $1.2 million. He said $600,000 is the limit for a wrongful death claim and $300,000 for other types of claims.
Laudman’s final days and evidence of an attempted cover-up by correctional officers were detailed in documents reported by The Greenville News last year.
Baxley wrote in his 2014 order that an investigative report found Laudman had been “physically abused” by a correctional officer during his cell transfer and that a prison investigator later “found evidence of an attempted cover-up by correctional officers” who cleaned the cell before investigators could photograph it.
Baxley reported some inmates had died “for lack of basic mental health care, and hundreds more remain substantially at risk for serious physical injury, mental decompensation, and profound, permanent mental illness.”
Lawyers for the state and the plaintiffs in the class-action case that resulted in Baxley’s order have been in mediation talks for months working on solutions to the problems cited in the order.
Fair said at the time of Laudman’s death, prison protocols for dealing with the mentally ill were different than they are today.
“Did the Department of Corrections knowingly do something wrong? Probably not,” Fair said. “They know now. But then they might not have known that the outcome for mentally ill people put in lockdown could be what it was for Mr. Laudman and that that is not the appropriate treatment for the mentally ill.”
Laudman, who was 44 when he died, was admitted to the prison system in 1998, Evans said last year. He pleaded guilty to strong armed robbery and was sentenced to 10 years, he said.
Laudman suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, mental retardation and bipolar disorder, according to documents in the federal lawsuit. He also had a speech impediment that made it difficult for him to communicate, according to the records.
For much of his incarceration, the prison system’s mental health treatment of inmates was strongly criticized. One report in 2000 described it as in a state of “crisis.” The agency lacked adequate personnel and resources, the reports found. Among the recommendations was that the agency train its officers in how to handle the mentally ill.
Laudman was committed to the prison system’s Gilliam Psychiatric Hospital at least 13 times, according to the federal lawsuit.
On Dec. 7, 2007, he was placed in crisis intervention at Lee Correctional Institution, the Bishopville prison where he was assigned, for displaying “severe emotional problems,” according to the lawsuit.
Crisis intervention, according to the lawsuit, is designed to provide intensive inpatient mental health treatment for “legitimate mental health disorders” for up to seven days. Instead, according to the suit, Laudman was placed on crisis intervention for up to several months.
On Jan. 22, 2008, he was seen by his psychiatrist and prescribed medication. According to the lawsuit, he would never see the psychiatrist again, despite the psychiatrist’s order for a follow-up in two weeks.
On Feb. 7, Laudman was moved to the Lee Supermax, cells designed to “punish and provide intensive supervision to inmates exhibiting assaultive behavior,” according to the suit. Why he was sent there and who authorized the move remains somewhat of a mystery, according to court documents.
One administrator told a prison investigator that he was transferred because he was “trashing his room, was uncooperative and parading around naked,” according to the prison system’s investigative report. But the administrator didn’t know who authorized the transfer and the investigation could find no one who knew, according to the report, which is included in the federal court files.
According to the report, witnesses to Laudman’s move said Laudman was sprayed with chemical munitions after initially refusing an order to be handcuffed, then handcuffed and thrown into the wrong cell. He was pulled out and thrown into the cell he was assigned. The officer accused of throwing Laudman denied the allegation, according to the internal report.
When an investigator looked at the videotape of the transfer of Laudman, he noted that it contained only a few minutes of footage before it went blank, according to the internal report.
The cell was bare, with a concrete pad for sleeping and no blanket, according to the suit. The lawsuit alleges that the entire area was cold and there were problems with the heating system.
Laudman was stripped of all “basic necessities,” according to the lawsuit, including mattress, sheets, socks, shoes, underwear and uniform.” He also wasn’t provided access to his medication while in the Supermax cell, according to the suit.
Four days after Laudman was placed in his new cell, an officer noticed that he was sitting and stooped over “like he was real weak or sick,” according to the internal investigative report.
The officer also noted that food trays were piled up near the door, Laudman was naked and the room was bare. The officer didn’t report what he saw, according to the report, because when he brought up issues in the past he was told to “leave it alone.”
Cell check logs for the time Laudman was in his Supermax cell show entries initialed by an officer who denied either making the initials or authorizing them, according to the internal investigative report. One date was blank and showed no cell check. In his order, Baxley wrote that, “The evidence before the court contains proven instances of fabricated cell check logs,” and noted Laudman’s cell checks as an example.
Some inmates told the prison investigator after Laudman’s death that they had tried to get officers to look at Laudman, believing something was wrong since he wasn’t eating and not making his usual noises, according to the report. An officer told them that it was “out of his hands,” according to the investigative report.
On the last day of Laudman’s life, Feb. 18, 2008, one of the officers repeatedly told a supervisor that “Laudman needed help,” and was lying in his own feces, according to the internal report.
When the nurses assessed Laudman, one reported he was “extremely cold to the touch, ‘like ice all over his body,’” according to the lawsuit.
The nurses said that he was unresponsive, with a pulse of 50 and pupils that were fixed and dilated, according to the prison internal report. One nurse noted that there were large bruises on Laudman’s hip bones, “suggestive of hips pressing against a hard surface for a long period of time.”
Two inmates told an investigator that after Laudman was removed from the cell, other inmates were told to clean it. One said he was ordered to clean up the cell before any investigators arrived.
He also said an officer advised him that if he was questioned by investigators “it would be best if he said nothing about it,” according to the investigative report. He said he put the feces, vomit and a jumpsuit found near the shower area in a trash can, according to the report.
The investigator said in his report that he noticed no smell of feces or vomit as reported by a nurse when he saw the cell but did notice “the distinct odor of cleaning supplies.” When he asked a supervising officer, the officer told him the area hadn’t been cleaned or anything removed from the cell and that the cell was in the exact same condition as when Laudman left.
Laudman was transported to a hospital, which later reported he was suffering from hypothermia and had a core temperature of 80.6 degrees, according to the prison internal report. He later was pronounced dead from cardiac arrhythmia.