The mother of a 15-year-old boy who died in custody in November 2006 at the state’s Tryon Residential Center has filed state and federal lawsuits seeking over $30 million for wrongful death and violation of the teenager’s constitutional rights.
Anntwanisha Thompson of the Bronx, mother of the late Darryl Thompson, is seeking $30 million in a state Court of Claims lawsuit and also has filed in U.S. District Court asking for an undisclosed sum.
In the Court of Claims action alleging wrongful death, Amsterdam lawyer Elmer Robert Keach III names a long list of personnel from the state Office of Children and Family Services — the agency that operates the facility. The defendants include the two youth aides who restrained Thompson in the minutes before his death, John P. Johnson and Robert Murphy, and former OCFS Commissioner John A. Johnson.
In comments Tuesday, Keach referred to Thompson’s death as murder and said he and his client are pursuing this case to ensure that any settlement also results “in wholesale comprehensive reform” and “exposure of the brutality that existed out there.”
OCFS spokesman Edward Borges declined comment on the lawsuits, noting his agency has yet to receive the court documents.
In a report issued in September 2007, a Fulton County grand jury found no basis for an indictment but did find fault with Tryon for not having procedures and equipment in place to cope with a medical emergency. For instance, there was no defibrillator available and radio transmissions seeking help were blocked by interference.
An autopsy ruled the death a homicide but attributed it to a heart arrhythmia possibly caused by abnormally narrow coronary arteries and a fat deposit in Thompson’s right ventricle. The pathologist found the restraint placed on Thompson by the aides did not contribute to the death.
The grand jury referred a series of recommendations to state officials. Since Thompson’s death, the U.S. Department of Justice has been conducting its own investigation of the incident. OCFS is currently seeking to fire the two aides who restrained Thompson.
Keach is not accepting the grand jury analysis of what led to Thompson’s being restrained and losing consciousness on a bathroom floor after complaining about a decision canceling daily recreational privileges in his cottage.
Two aides executed a two-man restraint procedure after Thompson shoved one aide, the grand jury found. The three then toppled to the floor. After Thompson was handcuffed and placed on his side, an aide noticed he was unresponsive.
“Why was Darryl Thompson lying there for five minutes without getting CPR?” said Keach. “The reason is that Darryl Thompson was dead and various individuals were trying to cook up a story.”
Keach said the lawsuit will focus on the treatment of Thompson and on what he described as various failings in agency training and procedures.
In the Court of Claims suit, Keach asserts Thompson “was repeatedly crying for help and complaining about an inability to breathe during the course of this restraint.”
During the incident, the suit states, one or both of the aides were on Thompson’s chest and “only after [Thompson] was unconscious did the restraint cease.”
Keach contends that CPR was not attempted until some time later, when Thompson was placed in an ambulance, by which time he was dead.
Keach called the conduct of the aides “reprehensible and disgusting” and said they “effectively murdered a child under their care and then denied him the prompt medical treatment as he lay dying.”
“These lower-level OCFS employees are not alone in the culpability for this boy’s death,” the suit continues, noting the agency has been repeatedly sued “for violating the rights of juveniles in their custody.” The suit said the restraint technique used then at Tryon has been criticized by corrections experts and is banned in several states.
The federal lawsuit alleges the same circumstances and seeks damages on the grounds of excessive use of force; cruel and unusual punishment; deliberate indifference to serious medical needs; violation of the right to due process of law; failure to train and supervise personnel; and implementation of policies that violate constitutional rights.