The case of a Washington prison inmate is raising new questions about whether mentally ill offenders end up serving longer sentences and are subject to unfair punishment.
The inmate – Eldorado Brown – received 51 infractions from corrections officers in a single year.
Eldorado Brown has spent most of his adult life in prison. He mutilated his arms, spit blood on walls in his cell and fought with staff.
“Mr. Brown was probably sentenced to more than a year (of extra time),” said Darryl Parker, the attorney who has represented Brown for several years.
Brown has spent most of his adult life in prison. Parker says his client is mentally ill and that the Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) needs to do a better job treating – instead of punishing – inmates who act up because of mental illness.
“You’re punishing someone for behavior they really can’t control,” Parker said. “I’m sure if he could stop, he’d stop.”
Parker has filed two lawsuits over Brown’s treatment in prison. Both are scheduled for trial in federal court in Seattle.
“I’ve been diagnosed with severe mental illness,” Brown said in a phone interview with KING 5. “Normally, I’m severely depressed to the point where I want to commit suicide."
Videos shot by corrections officers – who are required to record use-of-force instances – show multiple incidents involving Brown. One shows handcuffed Brown scuffling with officers. In another, “strike” teams assemble outside Brown’s cell when he refuses to follow orders. Another shows officers restraining Brown in a bed with straps that prevents him from harming himself.
“The biggest concern is using isolation as a form of treatment,” Parker said of his client who spends much of his sentence in solitary confinement.
Records filed with the federal court show that there’s been “considerable debate” among prison medical staff over whether Brown is mentally ill or whether he’s being “manipulative” to get special treatment. The same records show that doctors have fed Brown a steady diet of drugs for bipolar disorder and depression.
The Washington State Department of Corrections refused to comment on Brown’s case. However, the DOC did take steps in 2014 to address problems among mentally ill inmates by eliminating the “Attempted self-harm/mutilation” infraction that it used to impose on inmates who attempted suicide.
“For too long, there has been a short-sighted practice of punishing or isolating those who are unable to control their impulses,” DOC Deputy Director Scott Frakes said in a press release at the time.
But months after the 2014 decision to remove self-harm violations, Brown was recorded on video locked in the maximum security yard at Monroe’s correctional complex in 20-degree weather.
Brown can be seen wearing a suicide smock trying to cut his wrists with a paperclip. He then wraps a phone cord around his neck and tries to hang himself, until he falls free of the cord and lands on the ground.
For two hours, no corrections officers came to Brown’s aid.
“They get tired on him and decide, ‘Let’s just leave him and ignore him,’” said Parker.
Parker says he filed suit on Brown’s behalf because the prison system still needs to do more for the inmates who are trapped behind the walls of mental illness.
-- Follow Chris Ingalls on Twitter: @cjingalls.