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Woman files $7.5 million claim over debilitating brain injury after stay at York prison

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A woman who ended up with a brain injury after her two-day stay in the Janet S. York Correctional Institution in 2014 has filed a $7.5 million claim against the state Department of Correction.

Amy Rolon, now 38, was 36 when, according to a DOC incident report, several staffers at the all-women facility in Niantic on at least two occasions watched but didn't act as she lay on the floor and struggled to get up in autumn 2014.

In a written statement, one of Rolon's fellow inmates detailed a time period between Oct. 30 and Nov. 1, 2014, in which she pushed the call button multiple times to alert officials to the detoxing Rolon, who was yelling, vomiting, falling and, at one point, complaining that she couldn't feel her legs.

The inmate said medical personnel gave Rolon methadone on the morning of Oct. 31 and clonidine and nausea medicine later that day, but otherwise didn't regularly visit the cell.

"She fell in and out of the shower numerous times, so I continued to push the call button to let them know she had fallen," the inmate said of the night of Oct. 31.

When officers "finally" brought a wheelchair, the inmate continued, "I lifted her into it because she couldn't do it and no one else was helping."

A review of video surveillance from that incident, which occurred about 4:15 a.m. Nov. 1, corroborated the inmate's story.

According to Lt. Christopher Brunelle, who watched multiple angles of the video and thoroughly detailed everything he saw, the call button of Cell 9, where Rolon was assigned, lit up about 4:16 a.m.

Three minutes later, as Rolon crawled out of her cell, two correction officers stared at her but walked past her and exited the unit without pause, according to Brunelle.

At 4:21 a.m., after watching Rolon from afar for about a minute, two different correction officers brought a wheelchair to Rolon, but didn't help her get into it, Brunelle wrote.

Instead, they and a nurse watched as two inmates assisted Rolon and continued watching as Rolon wheeled herself to the nurse's office.

It was about 4:33 a.m. that, after a nurse walked away from her, Rolon fell out of the wheelchair, hitting her head on a dressing cart.

In the three minutes that passed before Rolon got herself back into the wheelchair, Brunelle reported, "no help is seen by nursing staff or" correction officers.

About 10:15 a.m. that day, according to Lt. Paul Hurley, Rolon had an apparent seizure during which she bit her tongue, leading to "a significant amount of blood coming from her mouth."

Noncompliant and disoriented, Rolon was given forced medications, put in therapeutic restraints and placed on regular medical observation, according to Hurley.

At 12:45 p.m., Hurley wrote, Rolon was placed in an ambulance to be taken to Lawrence + Memorial Hospital after medical staff were unable to start an IV for treatment.

By 4:45 p.m., Rolon, whose CAT scan revealed possible bleeding in her brain, was being rushed to Yale-New Haven Hospital in critical condition.

Now Rolon lives in a rehabilitation home in New Britain, where she receives around-the-clock care as a result of her injuries, according to family lawyer Ronald Johnson.

Johnson said she has a serious brain injury that has resulted in low cognitive skills, as well as paralysis in one leg, leaving her confined to a bed much of the time and unable to walk.

"She's going to need assistance for the rest of her life," he said.

Gerald Sack, the lawyer who handles litigation for Rolon, said the video speaks for itself.

"The inmates are calling for medical care and nothing's being done," he said. "When she falls out of the wheelchair, (the staff) look at her and they walk by her like she's an object. It's very damning."

He noted that Rolon's claim, filed with the state Office of the Claims Commissioner last October, is in the discovery phase.

Because the state is immune from liability and from suit, the office will have to give permission before Sack and his client can go through with a lawsuit.

He said he and his client are looking forward to receiving documents from the state in "the near future" that will help them "fill in the blanks" in terms of the disciplinary actions that were taken against York employees.

On Nov. 6, 2014, DOC officials said four DOC employees and two UConn Correctional Managed Health Care employees had been placed on administrative leave because of "significant concern over their actions with regard to an offender's medical needs."

Four DOC employees remain on administrative leave, and two nurses who worked for the UConn health care unit have since resigned, said acting Director of the External Affairs Division of the Department of Correction Karen Martucci.

"We're closing up a very detailed and elaborate investigation that could result in termination," Martucci said, adding that the commissioner expects the results of that investigation in the next few weeks.

She declined to comment on the protocol that may have been broken, or the circumstances of Rolon's injury, citing the pending litigation.

Rolon was admitted to York on Oct. 30, 2014, one day after Hartford Police charged her with prostitution.

She also was facing charges of sixth-degree larceny and failure to appear in court at the time.

The state nolled, or opted not to prosecute, all of Rolon's charges following her injury.

Day Staff Writer Nate Lynch contributed to this report.

l.boyle@theday.com

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