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Timothy Perry, Connecticut

On April 12, 1999, a twenty-one-year-old schizophrenic man named Timothy Perry was found dead in an observation cell hours after he had been placed in four-point restraints. At the time, Perry, who also suffered from schizoaffective disorder, impulse control disorder, borderline personality disorder, major depression, and oppositional defiant disorder, and who was estimated to have an intelligence quotient (IQ) of seventy-six, was in restraints, strapped to a bed in a cell in the mental health unit of Connecticut’s Hartford Correctional Center.289

Perry had suffered from mental illness for many years, had been treated in several Connecticut state facilities, and in the months preceding his death had been a resident of Cedarcrest Regional Hospital. At the end of March, following violent actions against staff at the hospital, and after the state’s forensic mental health facility at Whiting had refused to admit him, Cedarcrest called in the police to arrest Perry. Following his arrest, he was sent to the correctional center, a local detention facility under the control of the Department of Correction. In prison, Perry continued to act bizarrely and aggressively. On the evening of April 12, correctional officers decided to put him in restraints.

Perry was carried by several officers to a holding cell. They placed him face down on a mattress, attached leg irons, and held a towel over his mouth and face. Over the telephone, a department of corrections psychiatrist ordered that Perry be sedated and restrained. As a result of this phone call, the staff picked Perry up again and carried him to a cell equipped with four point restraints. After he was restrained, they injected his body with powerful sedatives.

According to a forensic doctor’s review of the evidence about the events leading to Perry’s death, the placement of Perry:

face down in a prone position with his hands restrained behind his back and his legs restrained, and with a towel held over his mouth, placed [him] at a significant risk of death. It is further my opinion that these actions were more likely than not indeed the cause of his death. Such a position inhibits chest wall motion and compromises breathing.290

According to the Complaint for Damages filed by Perry’s family after his death:

The Defendants’ use of excessive force against Timothy rendered Timothy unconscious, comatose, dying or dead at or near the time that he was in cell 10 [the first cell] and after the time that the Defendants moved him to cell 24 [the cell equipped with the restraints].291

In cell 24, where the officers’ actions were videotaped, officers continued to restrain the now-naked Perry and to use pain compliance techniques against him. They even accused him of continuing to resist, despite the fact that, as established by subsequent investigations, he was either already dead at this stage, or, at the very least, comatose. The autopsy report indicated the injected sedatives pooled near the point of injection, suggesting his blood circulation had all-but-ceased by the time they were administered.292 Turning the unresponsive Perry onto his back, tied down by his wrists and ankles, the officers left the cell.

Two hours later, a nurse looked through the windows of the cell and noticed that Perry’s feet had become discolored and that he was completely still. When she had the cell door opened, the nurse found that Perry had no pulse, that his body was cold and that he had been dead for some time.

Perry’s death received wide publicity. The circumstances of the case were so egregious and the correctional officers’ and medical staffs’ flouting of prison policies so pronounced that the state was compelled to settle the lawsuit. Perry’s guards had failed to follow protocols on how to restrain a prisoner safely; they had applied too much weight to his prone body; they had blocked his air passages; they had failed to notify the treating psychiatrist that he was being restrained; they had failed to follow a strict fifteen minute observation routine for Perry; they had failed to check his vital signs; and the nurse who injected him with medications had somehow injected Thorazine into his body, despite the fact that his charts indicated he was allergic to the drug. Once it was clear that he was not breathing, they had also failed to immediately call in medical assistance. In the largest wrongful death settlement ever paid out by the State of Connecticut in the death of a single man without children, Perry’s estate was awarded $2.9 million.293

289 R. Bartley Halloran Administrator of the Estate of Timothy Perry v. Armstrong et al., Complaint for Damages, 3: 01 CV 582 (AVC) (Hartford Federal Court, April 11, 2001), p. 14. Information on the Perry case was also gained from internal Connecticut Department of Correction memos and letters, forensic reports, investigations into Perry’s death carried out by the Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities, and the videotape filmed by Hartford Correctional Center correctional officers in the run-up to, and discovery of, inmate Perry’s death.

290 See Letter from Barbara C. Wolf, M.D. to Susan Werboff, Director, Connecticut Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities, October 23, 2000. Dr. Wolf provided Ms. Werboff with an analysis of the events leading to and causes of Mr. Perry’s death based on her review of the autopsy, police investigative reports and other records.

291 R. Bartley Halloran Administrator of the Estate of Timothy Perry vs. Armstrong et al., Complaint for Damages, 3: 01 CV 582 (AVC) (Hartford Federal Court, April 11, 2001), p. 14.

292 According to the lawyer for Perry’s family, Antonio Poinvert, the prison videotape of Perry’s last moments clearly shows correctional officers saying Perry was still resisting them even though Perry’s naked body was motionless and unresponsive, and he had no reflexes even after officers push his feet back hard against his Achilles tendons. Human Rights Watch interview with Antonio Poinvert, attorney, Greenwich, Connecticut, May 10, 2002.

293 Information provided by the Perry estate’s attorney, Antonio Poinvert. Human Rights Watch interview with Antonio Poinvert, attorney, Greenwich, Connecticut, May 10, 2002.

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October 2003