Photo courtesy of the DOC
William Coleman (Photo courtesy of the DOC)

William Coleman, the prisoner who has been on a hunger strike for more than a year, unexpectedly had a feeding tube inserted down his nose and into his stomach Thursday morning at MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution, according to his lawyer.

“Bill is being punished for a passive protest,” the lawyer, David McGuire, said Thursday evening in a telephone interview.

Coleman was convicted by a jury in 2005 of raping his ex-wife during a nasty child custody dispute while they were both still living in the same Waterbury home. Coleman has maintained his innocence throughout his conviction and incarceration.

The first “nasogastric” tube was forcibly inserted through Coleman’s nose but had to be removed when a kink in the tube got caught in his nasal passage. “I could feel it going down my throat and into my stomach. I was gagging, choking, and vomiting,” Coleman said in a news release from the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut.

Contrary to prior practice with Coleman, Dr. Edward Blanchette, director of clinical operations for the Correction Department, shut off two cameras being used to tape the procedure immediately before inserting the tube, McGuire said.

McGuire says that Blanchette restarted the cameras only after the tubes had been removed and the room had been cleaned.

Rep. Michael Lawlor, D-East Haven, co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, said he would presume that medical staff overseeing Coleman’s force-feeding would inform him of the procedure before performing it. He said he assumed they would seek his cooperation, then inform him of the court order allowing the force-feeding if he refused.

Correction Department spokesman Brian Garnett said “The Department of Correction has a court order that allows us to take medically appropriate steps to protect his life.” He said proper protocol during the procedure was utilized and followed by Correction staff.

McGuire said he met with Coleman Thursday afternoon and could still see evidence of vomit on the inmate’s sweatshirt and pants, which he’s been wearing since Monday. Also, since the procedure was performed, Coleman has filled six to seven Kleenex with blood discharge, McGuire said.

McGuire called the measure “extreme” and “unexpected” since the Correction Department had been administering a saline drip to Coleman every Tuesday and Friday since late September when he began refusing any liquids. Prior to the one-year anniversary of his hunger strike, Coleman had maintained his strength by drinking water, juice, and some milk.

The procedure came as a surprise since there was nothing in Coleman’s medical records to indicate his condition had substantially changed, McGuire said. However, his client’s routine over the past week has changed substantially. He said on Tuesday, after receiving his saline drip, Coleman was shackled and moved from Osborn Correctional Institution to MacDougall-Walker, where he was placed in an isolation cell in the infirmary.

McGuire said a sign that read “No Inmate Contact” was posted outside Coleman’s cell. Other inmates in the infirmary are placed in “lockdown” every time Coleman leaves his cell to make a call to his family, McGuire said.

Also, Coleman hasn’t been given any reading material and hasn’t had a shower since Monday, he said.

McGuire said most inmates on hunger strike start eating when they are faced with the tube,. However, he said Coleman isn’t giving up his protest. He said Coleman feels “humiliated and degraded,” but is determined to continue his protest.

“The ACLU condemns this inhumane act by the DOC,” ACLU-CT Executive Director Andrew Schneider said in the release. “This violent procedure violates Mr. Coleman’s human rights, his right to deny medical treatment, and his right to political protest.”

The ACLU has filed a motion to vacate the Correction Department injunction the court granted it in January, which allows it to force feed him. A bench trial on the constitutionality of the court order is scheduled for January.

Jane Mills contributed to this report.