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Disability advocates sue to get details on inmate death

By DAVE SOLOMON
State House Bureau

February 21. 2018 8:45PM




CONCORD — The Disability Rights Center filed a lawsuit in federal court Wednesday seeking records on an individual with mental illness who died in December while being held at the state prison in Concord.

The 34-year-old man died alone in his cell due to what authorities at the time described as “self-injurious behavior” in the prison’s Residential Treatment Unit, a specialized unit for inmates with mental illness who are unable to function in the general inmate population.

“DRC has determined that there is probable cause to believe that the individual with mental illness who died in custody was subject to neglect,” according to the lawsuit.

“Defendants refuse to produce the requested records, thereby preventing DRC from fulfilling its statutory mandates of investigating allegations of abuse and neglect as well as providing protection and advocacy services for individuals with disabilities.”

The Disability Rights Center was the lead plaintiff in a 2013 landmark class action lawsuit against the state over its deficient mental health services that resulted in a $30 million settlement.

The center has been authorized since 1978 by the federal Protection and Advocacy System to protect the civil rights of individuals with mental illness in New Hampshire.

The DRC lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of New Hampshire. It names Commissioner of Corrections Helen Hanks and outgoing warden Michael Zenk, whose departure from the state prison to take a position in Indiana was announced on Wednesday.

State officials claim they are not required to provide the documents because the DRC does not have probable cause to suggest that abuse or neglect occurred, and that if any records are to be released, they can’t be released until the state completes its own investigation.

“It’s critical that DRC be able to fully investigate suspected abuse and neglect of people with disabilities in New Hampshire,” said Andrew Milne, DRC staff attorney.

“Without prompt access to records, we cannot assess whether individuals’ rights are being respected, nor can we fulfill our federally mandated role to protect and advocate for people with mental illness.”

Phillip Borcuk, 34, was rushed to Concord Hospital’s emergency room on Dec. 6, 2017, and later pronounced dead.

Corrections officers and medical personnel responded to Borcuk’s cell when “they heard him engaging in self-injurious behavior,” according to prison officials, who have since declined to elaborate.

Borcuk was sentenced to state prison in 2012 by Sullivan County Superior Court for charges of operating a motor vehicle after certification as a habitual offender, theft by unauthorized taking and assault by a prisoner.

He would have been eligible for parole on Dec. 5 of this year.

dsolomon@unionleader.com


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