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Wisconsin guard charged in investigation of four inmate deaths – NBC Chicago

Guards at Wisconsin’s oldest maximum-security prison failed to provide basic care to inmates who died on their watch, including one who died of dehydration and another who was not found for at least 12 hours after dying of a stroke, the officials said. authorities Wednesday in announcing charges against the director and eight members of his staff.

Waupun Correctional Institution Warden Randall Hepp has been charged with misconduct in public office. The remaining eight are accused of assaulting prisoners. Three of them are also accused of misconduct.

“We are operating the oldest prison in the state of Wisconsin in a dangerous and reckless manner,” Dodge County Sheriff Dale Schmidt, who led the investigation, said at a news conference announcing the charges.

Hepp faces up to 3.5 years in prison if convicted. Last week he announced that he would retire at the end of June. He said in an email to Waupun staff that he had helped improve “safety and order” at the prison.

Hepp’s attorney, Robert Webb, declined to comment.

Three of the four deaths are subject to federal lawsuits. The state Department of Corrections is investigating the prison’s operations, and the governor last year asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the smuggling of contraband into the prison.

Department of Corrections Secretary Jared Hoy said in a statement that more than 20 people remain under internal investigation, at least eight of whom are on leave and nine others have been fired or retired since the investigation began. started years ago. Hoy asked the sheriff to keep his investigation open and share all his findings. Schmidt said he could reopen the investigation if additional evidence emerged from the internal investigation.

The first of the four inmates who died, Dean Hoffman, committed suicide in solitary confinement last June. Hoffman’s daughter filed a federal lawsuit in February, alleging that prison officials failed to provide her father with adequate mental health care and medications.

Tyshun Lemons and Cameron Williams were both found dead at the factory in October. Dodge County Medical Examiner PJ Schoebel said Lemons overdosed on acetylfentanyl, a powerful opioid painkiller, and Williams died of a stroke.

Donald Maier was found dead in prison in February. Schmidt said his death was ruled a homicide due to malnutrition and dehydration.

All charges are related to the deaths of Williams and Maier.

According to a criminal complaint, Williams told an inmate attorney three days before he died that he needed to go to the hospital, but no action was taken. He had fallen in the shower and had to crawl into his cell two days earlier, and a day before that he collapsed on the way back to his cell, but neither fall was documented, the complaint said.

He died of a stroke sometime on Oct. 29, but his body was not discovered until late the next morning, at least 12 hours after he died, the complaint said. The nurse, sergeant and lieutenant accused in his death never checked on him that night, the complaint said.

Maier had serious mental health problems, but he refused or did not take his medication in the eight days leading up to his death, according to a separate complaint.

An inmate told investigators that Maier flooded his cell, causing guards to turn off his water. Six days before he died, he told a staff member he wanted “water, water, water, all the water in the world” and pretended to swim around his cell. Guards also saw him drinking from his toilet, the complaint said.

Security guards said they turned the water off and on for Maier, but investigators said no one ever told him when it was on, the complaint said. Guards also did not bring him food in the four days leading up to his death, the complaint said.

When asked if his employees understand the prison’s water shut-off policy, Hepp told them the policy is distributed via email, but he doesn’t think anyone at any facility actually reads it and that no prison in the United States eats every meal of prisoners documents.

Attorney Mark Hazelbaker represents Gwendolyn Vick, a nurse accused of abuse in connection with Williams’ death. According to the complaint, a nurse from a previous shift told her that Williams was on the floor of his cell, but she never checked on him. She told investigators that she told the guards she wasn’t sure if it was necessary to enter his cell because Williams was always trying to get a hospital visit, the complaint said.

Hazelbaker said Vick is “very sad” that four people died in prison, but that she is not responsible for anyone’s deaths. She has the right to be heard on the issues involved in providing prison health care, he said, adding that the real incompetence lies with the Department of Corrections if it fails to properly staff the aging prison and replace.

Waupun had a vacancy rate of 43% at the end of May, according to agency data.

“I cannot emphasize enough that this is a system failure of enormous proportions,” Hazelbaker said. “It’s dangerous. People don’t want to work there.”

Waupun’s problems extend beyond inmate deaths. Gov. Tony Evers’ office said in March that federal investigators were investigating a suspected trafficking ring involving prison workers.

Evers said Wednesday in response to the charges that anyone who failed to do their job will be held accountable.

Republican lawmakers renewed their calls Wednesday for Evers to close the prison in Waupun and another maximum-security prison in Green Bay. Both prisons were built in the 19th century.

“Tony Evers can no longer keep his head in the sand,” said Senator Van Wanggaard, chairman of the Senate committee that oversees state prisons.

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