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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Was it suicide? Questions abound in death of pepper-sprayed inmate

SacbeeSometime around 10 p.m. on Sept. 6, the guards at Mule Creek State Prison in Amador County decided to take action against Joseph Damien Duran, a mentally ill inmate who had been acting up inside his cell for hours.

Duran, a 35-year-old career criminal who had been at the prison for two days, was refusing to take his medications, pounding on his cell door and making faces at prison staffers. He rejected orders to place his hands through the food port opening in his cell door to be handcuffed, and refused to close the food port. Finally, guards aimed through the port and blasted him in the face with pepper spray.
Duran breathed through a tube in his throat, the result of a 2006 tracheotomy. Agitated and still coated with pepper spray, he pulled the breathing tube out of the hole, or stoma, in his throat and rinsed it in the cell toilet. He began putting his finger into the hole and coughing up blood; he took strands of spaghetti from his dinner tray and stuffed those into the throat hole as well. Over the next few hours, he would continue to refuse to come out of the cell, where he was housed alone.

Within two hours, a prison doctor ordered that he be removed from the cell, medicated, decontaminated of the pepper spray and the tube reinserted in his throat. But guards refused, saying he was too dangerous to move. They left him in the cell alone despite several requests by medical staffers to have him removed.

Duran was dead within seven hours. The coroner labeled the case a suicide.

But confidential corrections documents obtained by The Sacramento Bee, including notes of interviews with prison staffers and an internal review of the case by a psychologist, raise questions about Duran’s treatment and have sparked a demand for an investigation by attorneys representing mentally ill inmates in an ongoing class-action lawsuit. continue reading...

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