Death of Vaughn prison riot witness prompts two lawsuits against Connections
The death of Luis Cabrera, who died in prison before he could testify in the murder trials connected with the 2017 prison riot at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, has prompted two lawsuits against Connections Community Support Programs.
One is from the family of Cabrera, who say the man was denied health care inside the prison and died in agony because of negligence at the hands of Connections, its employees, and the Delaware Department of Correction.
The second – filed Thursday – is from a Connections employee who directly oversaw Cabrera's care and said she was terminated after objecting to the lack of adequate care Cabrera received. It also notes that a nurse who failed to enter Cabrera's cell and give him further care after finding him unresponsive was also fired for her failure to act.
Both lawsuits shed light on the final moments of a 49-year-old inmate. Both allege gross misconduct of employees and administrators with the power to save Cabrera's life.
Connections is already under investigation by the state Department of Justice for the services it is contractually obligated to provide for the state's prisoners.
That investigation came directly after The News Journal published an investigation into reports that the contractor falsified records to conceal inadequate addiction treatment at Crest South, a taxpayer-funded substance abuse program for drug offenders in Georgetown.
What do the lawsuits say?
The first lawsuit, filed by one of the state prison's biggest critics, Dover attorney Stephen Hampton, details the notes made by Connections' healthcare providers as Cabrera's life ticked to an end.
The notes show his condition rapidly deteriorated after long complaining of stomach issues well before he was ever transferred to Young Correctional Institution in Wilmington, where he died on Nov. 8 in the infirmary.
The autopsy found his cause of death to be a perforated duodenal ulcer, according to the lawsuit. This ulcer in his stomach allowed fecal contents to spill into his abdominal cavity, which if left untreated, leads to sepsis and death.
At the time of his death, the prison issued a press release noting that foul play was not suspected.
The family of Cabrera says in the lawsuit that Connections' medical providers were "deliberately indifferent" to his condition and "callously watched him die slowly in excruciating pain from a medical condition that could have been successfully treated with proper medical care."
The allegations in the first lawsuit are supported by the second lawsuit filed by a Connections whistleblower who helped directly oversee Cabrera's care.
"The documentation in (the former employee's) lawsuit is very supportive of what we put in ours," Hampton said. "I think our case was very strong before and is even stronger now. It baffles me beyond belief why people would think this man is faking it and why this man shouldn't go to the hospital."
The whistleblower – former Connections Health Services Administrator Tracey Crews – says in a filing by Wilmington attorney Chris Johnson that she was fired after objecting to Cabrera's treatment and raising further concerns in meetings held after his death.
She then began to receive retaliatory behavior from her supervisors, according to the lawsuit, as well as experience anxiety and depression.
Crews was placed on a "performance improvement plan" and then transferred to Baylor Women's Correctional Institution near New Castle. The transfer had nothing to do with Cabrera's death, according to the lawsuit, and Crews was then directed to use her paid time off until her new start date at the women's facility.
“When Ms. Crews complained about what she believed to be blatant inmate maltreatment, she was silenced and ultimately fired,” said Johnson, partner at the Igwe Firm's Wilmington office, in a written statement. “Ms. Crews was a model employee prior to complaining about Mr. Cabrera’s lack of proper medical care. Our lawsuit is intended to clear her name and to hold Connections accountable for the alleged misconduct as detailed in our complaint."
Brittany Horn is an investigation reporter digging into some of Delaware's biggest issues. Got a story that needs telling? Contact her at (302) 324-2771 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @brittanyhorn.