Government Negligent in Death of Carswell Prison Inmate

Linda D’Antuono Fenton, a 34-year-old inmate at the Federal Medical Center-Carswell near Fort Worth, died in 2004 eight days after she was taken comatose from Carswell to the trauma center of a local hospital. She never regained consciousness. The circumstances surrounding her death were loaded with unanswered questions. Now, a federal judge has answered at least one of those questions in the first successful negligent death lawsuit brought against the prison hospital since it was opened 15 years ago as the only hospital in the country for women convicted of a federal crime.

On June 15, following a four-day negligent death trial brought by Fenton’s family, Federal Judge Terry Means of the Northern District of Texas found that a “preponderance of evidence” showed that the government had breached its duty to protect Fenton while she was in its custody and that such a violation was the “approximate cause of the injury” that led to her death. Local prison reform activist Don Campion called the ruling a “landmark” decision and said that federal judges should carefully consider it before sending any more women to Carswell, an institution rife with medical neglect cases, many leading to untimely deaths as well as rape and sexual abuse.

On Feb. 23, 2004, Fenton, who suffered from Tourette’s syndrome, was found unconscious and near death in a high-security cell in Carswell’s psychiatric wing, a sheet wrapped tightly around her neck. She was two days away from being released after serving five years for a drug-related offense. The official cause of death was suicide, a finding that her Florida family never bought. They have always blamed her death on the Carswell staff’s negligence in failing to protect their sister, even from herself. Her debilitating mental condition caused her to explode in uncontrollable anger that often led her to attempt to harm herself, a condition well known to the Carswell staff.  She had attempted suicide 18 times in the years she had been at the facility.

The events leading to the petite Fenton’s death began with an ordinary request to shave her legs in preparation for her journey home, a request that was inexplicably denied by her psychiatrist. “She wanted to be pretty and feminine for her trip home,” her sister Betty Appleby said. “What was so wrong with that?”

Fenton then went into an uncontrollable verbal rage against the doctor and was moved to a disciplinary isolation cell. Later, she asked to be returned to her unit so that she could tell her fellow inmates goodbye. That request was also denied, triggering another angry outburst.

When Carswell staff nurse Deborah Castner and Officer Joe Reamy came on duty in the isolation unit where Fenton was housed the morning of February 23, Fenton asked Reamy to help her find a way to get back to her unit to tell her friends good-bye.  Reamy said he would do it later, triggering another outburst from Fenton who then put toilet paper over the narrow window in the cell door, covered the lens of the camera in her cell and told Reamy she was going to “put something around her neck” to strangle herself.

At that moment, according to the Bureau of Prisons’ suicide policy, Reamy should have called for help and kept Fenton in his “direct sight line” at all times, which meant opening her cell door since the window was blocked and moving her to a plexi-glass cell where she could be observed at all times, with no sheet or blanket that she could use to harm herself.

Reamy did none of those things. Instead, he left Fenton unattended for several minutes and went to get Castner who looked through the food slot in the door and saw “a lump” on the bed. Still, neither of them opened the door, waiting at least another four or five minutes for Reamy’s supervisor to come.

Bureau suicide-training manuals state that brain cells begin to die within four to five minutes once they are deprived of oxygen.

Under questioning from plaintiff’s attorney Don Carter, Reamy admitted that he did not take Fenton’s threats seriously. “You thought she was trying to con you,” Carter said. “Yes sir,” Reamy replied.

In total, six minutes passed before Ramey, Castner and  supervisor Lori Sleigh, opened Fenton’s cell door. She was blue and had no pulse. Emergency personnel shocked her heart back into rhythm, but it was too late.

Reamy testified that he could not open the cell door of an inmate in distress without his immediate supervisor present, a fact that Sleigh quickly disputed when she told the court that she was not required to be present in a medical emergency, in particular a suicide threat where minutes can be the difference between life and death. Her testimony was the defining moment in the trial.

The joy of victory, however, was diminished by the judge’s inexplicable ruling on the separate issue of damages for pain and suffering. Means wrote that because Fenton was in a coma and heavily sedated in her final days, she could not have suffered pain–even though no expert medical testimony was given to support such a finding.

He awarded the family just $4,500, for funeral expenses.

Above image of Federal Medical Center-Carswell, public domain, Federal Bureau of Prisons

Comments

  1. Betty Appleby (Linda's Sister) says:

    This story is just a summary of years of abuse, neglect and other crimes my sister and her cell mates endured during their incarceration at FMC Carswll, by government Employees. We hope that continued repercussions fall upon Carswell and eventually the women behind the walls of Carswell will be safe from the criminals running it!!! If anyone of wealth or power has an interest in opening a huge can of worms and helping to stop the abuse behind the walls of Carswell, Linda’s family will be more than cooperative in the quest to help these women with no voice. I would welcome Oprah/ Bill Orielly/ Geraldo….For federal female inmate’s sake — they are serving their time — they should not be treated like Dogs in pens and even worse!!!

    • Lisa Glasse says:

      I am so sorry for the tragic loss of your sister. The judges ruling is an insulting out rage. My daughter was sent to Carswell last week for mental evaluation because she said she doesn't understand the charges against her. She is over 700 miles away from any family or friends. Over 1400 miles away from her 1yr old baby. Because of her not cooperating with attorneys and law suits she has brought against the prosecutor in Atlanta I am sure they would like her to just dissapear . Though she is very calm, I fear for her well being. How can I protect her, How can I bring attention to her situation? any suggestions would be much appreciated

      • Lori Lei says:

        I to was there at Carswell and It is one big horor story!!!!!!!!!!! I worked very hard and got transferred out asap ,,, They do things to women to keep them there BOP get paid extra money to keep them there Contact me via Email and I will tell you what needs to be done to get her out of there and closer to home

    • Aisha Baker says:

      I am curious to know the lawyers information that took your case. I also would like to bring some legal action against Carswell for improper medical treatment.

    • Florence Lockhart says:

      Dear Linda Fenton’s sister,

      Last night I was searching the internet and saw this article about Linda Fenton.
      I was kind of shook up because I was present on this day, I was in cell #4 and Linda was in cell #3.
      I never met Linda but since I was beside her we all could hear thru the cells.
      Mr. Roerick on that day told me that I was going to be leaving on that day so he told me to gather my items and they would move me back to the M2 ward.
      I was very happy about this and I wanted to tell somebody and I tried to talk to Linda Fenton but she never answered me.
      Her cell was quiet all morning, I figured she was either asleep or not in her cell.
      About 20 minutes after lunch somebody started to yell code blue and they went into Linda’s cell.
      I could overhear some words, they were saying Oh my God, oh my God, and then their was silence and then somebody asked what time is it? So I figured she had died in her cell.
      I thought all along that your sister was murdered maybe by some drug overdose or something because I don’t believe that that article says about that day.
      Linda had a person in her cell, I think her name was Cindy until about one week before she was to be released.
      Linda started to say that she didn’t like being by herself in that cell and it made no sense to me why they would have her alone in her cell like this.
      Personally I think they planned all of this all along and I am sure I would of heard her words on that day if she was in that cell.
      Then after the facts Unit manager Roerick came to my cell, think everybody’s cell and was saying stuff about she was asking for a razor so she could harm herself.
      I think he was just trying to present a picture that did not exist.
      So I don’t know if you will get this email, I am telling you my honest opinions, I thought maybe she was dead in the cell so I don’t get what happened afterwards.
      Plus I will add that another lady and I can’t even remember her name told me one day that what really happened is that nobody could find the keys to open up the door. I don’t know if this is true but this is what somebody told me.
      I did take notes the entire time I was at Carswell, and since my nephew had a similar experience where he was to be released from jail the next day and then was found dead, I almost wonder if jails and prisons do this stuff all of the time.
      Florence 7/23/14
      (live in Waldorf, MD, to contact me can call Fred Reiniger at 443-263-1000

  2. protestfolk says:

    The imprisoned dissident U.S. civil rights lawyer, Lynne Stewart, was also recently transferred from the MCC jail in Downtown Manhattan to this Federal Medical Center in Carswell.

  3. pretty black says:

    I just left carswell and its the worst place u could ever send someone. For that to be a fine medical center you get no medical attention at all. Ive seen people come healthy and die when they get to carswell. Some of my closest friends suffered and still suffer. If there is a god please save the women who remain their. If you have family there please believe them if they tell you something is wrong. The officers talk so bad to you even the older women in wheel chairs get cursed out. Its truly sad seeing all those older women getting their legs cutt off because they dont know what else to do. Rest in pease keke who was also a carswell victom.

  4. Dr. Cervantis andHead Nurse Mr. White are Satin Infested Evil Souls whose goal in life is to hurt and torture as many people as possible so they can spend eternity in HELL.

    I went there for 2 months for a test to see if I was competent to stand trial (dumb in the 1st place) and came in with a severe head injury from the county jail I was transferred from. These two assholes told me I was just making the pain up. Fortunately, I got out of jail when I came home and have been diagnosed by real doctors with permanent brain damage in the right side of my brain and permanent damage to my right eye as a result of the negligence at both the county jail and KILLSHELL!

    Nurse Tucker is another evil soul who has found her spot in hell along with the two mentioned above.

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