A Story of Mental Illness & Alleged Prison Abuse Comes to a Sad End

in Criminal Defense, on

North Carolina criminal defense attorneys are shaking their heads this week as they note the death of a prison inmate and the link to questionable State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) practices. The man, T.H., died of injuries he said were inflicted by prison guards following a fire in his cell back in 2008. He was 49 and had an IQ of 79.

As a child, T.H. had been diagnosed with a number of psychiatric disorders. By the age of 16, he was a veteran of state mental health facilities. His prison sentence was the result of a car accident that resulted in three deaths. T.H. claimed he was innocent — that a friend who had been drinking was behind the wheel. He was sentenced to three life terms for second-degree murder.

His mental disability and psychiatric disorders were not tolerated well in prison. In the 14 years he spent in prison, he was cited for 125 rules infractions — infractions that were punished by 1,459 days in solitary confinement. In North Carolina, solitary confinement is limited to 60 consecutive days, but T.H. was confined for 571.

The story gets even more bizarre with reports of T.H.’s mental health treatment. Evaluated by a prison psychiatrist (the diagnosis included no fewer than 6 disorders), T.H. did receive treatment while in prison — once a month, through the slot in the steel door of his cell in solitary. He claimed back then that the guards were assaulting him and begged to be released from solitary.

Following months, if not years, of self-destructive behavior and alleged abuse by the guards, T.H. took matters a step further. In a move that prison officials say is typically used by inmates in solitary to commit suicide, T.H. set fire to his mattress.

What happened next only T.H. and his guards would¬†know. He was dragged from his cell and out of view of surveillance cameras. The next day, he was admitted to the hospital with a broken nose, a fractured skull, and blood hemorrhaging inside his brain stem. The medical report stated that T.H. had welts and bruises “consistent with multiple blows from a billy club.”

In spite of these injuries and the medical report, the SBI investigation found no evidence of wrongdoing. One department of correction official suggested T.H. had fallen and hit his head. The department has not released the SBI report.

T.H. maintained until his death that he had been beaten by the guards. The current investigation into SBI practices may finally prove him right.

Resource: The News & Observer “Inmate Who Claimed Abuse Dies” 9/7/10