Kentucky Prisoner’s Family Files Lawsuit After He’s Pepper Sprayed & Killed During Mental Health Episode

Excessive force has become a widespread issue that we’ve unfortunately seen too many examples of in recent times, whether it’s a cop shooting a homeless man for jaywalking, an on-campus police officer using his elbow to pin down a Purdue University student by the neck or an assailant being shot & killed by authorities when non-fatal alternatives could’ve easily been applied.

The latest example comes by way of a Kentucky State prisoner who unfortunately died due to excessive force by prison guards in the midst of a mental episode due to his Bipolar Disorder.

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According to a report by USA Today, the family of 39-year-old Marcus Penman has filed a civil lawsuit against seven team members of the Kentucky State Penitentiary, including the unit administrator and commander of the cell entry team, for the neglect of his mental health care that violated his Constitutional rights and subsequently led to his death.

The incident occurred on April 25, 2017, when Penman began banging his head against a cell door while suffering a mental health episode. The Hopkinsville native was originally incarcerated in 2005 for drug-related charges and ordered to serve 20 years behind bars. His prior battles with bipolar disorder, antisocial disorder and ADHD went untreated while behind bars and eventually began to deteriorate his mental health. Durning the altercation in question, prison guards pepper-sprayed Penman three times before tasing him with an electric shock and dragging him out the cell. Later, he was placed in a restraint chair while choking on residual pepper spray and then choked some more by an officer all while being covered with a spit hood. As another guard pressed a stun shield on his face and body, Penman eventually died from asphyxiation.

More on why this case has been fought by state officials for the past five years below, via USA Today:

“Corrections experts told USA TODAY that claims of medical neglect and mistreatment of the mentally ill are not only a problem in Kentucky, but are also endemic to the U.S. penal system, which was never intended or equipped to deal with the mentally ill.

At the federal level, mental illness is often underreported or underdiagnosed because once it is on the record, the prison becomes responsible for addressing it and providing care, said Elizabeth Sinclair Hancq, the Treatment Advocacy Center’s research director.

‘That sounds, most likely, maybe that was part of this as well,’ Sinclair Hancq continued. ‘His symptoms were being dismissed and ignored in part because of these pressures to not officially acknowledge individuals’ challenges.’”

The day after Penman’s death, Kentucky State Police attempted to rule it as “self-inflicted” trauma before a medical examiner deemed it a homicide after finding Penman has suffered a partially collapsed lung, broken blood vessels to his left eye from the lack of oxygen and blunt force trauma to the head. Adding insult to injury, his widow Alice Penman first learned about his death via news articles that labeled it as a suicide.

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Although prison officials have requested for the case to be dismissed after a grand jury found no evidence of criminal conduct among the prison officials back in 2018, Senior Judge Thomas B. Russell was able to discover enough evidence for a jury to determine if his rights, specifically the Eighth Amendment, were violated.

Let us know what you think: were authorities simply apprehending an unruly inmate or did a Black man die unnecessarily because the guards weren’t properly fit to handle his sensitive mental health needs?

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