(Updated) After a two-year court battle, a Connecticut judge has ruled that state prison officials may continue to force feed an inmate who started his hunger strike two and half years ago to protest his marital rape conviction and a “broken judicial system.”
William B. Coleman, who is nearing the end of an eight year sentence, stopped eating in September 2007 and by September 2008 he stopped taking all fluids.
In January 2009 Superior Court Judge James T. Graham issued a temporary injunction that allowed prison officials to force feed him. Even though they had the court’s permission prison officials didn’t intervene and start force feeding Coleman until several months later. Wednesday’s ruling makes that injunction permanent.
After the temporary injunction was issued, the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut picked up the case and defended Coleman arguing his hunger strike was a form of free speech and that force feeding is inhumane. The ACLU estimates that Coleman has been force feed at least a dozen times since September 2008.
David McGuire, an attorney with the ACLU, denounced Graham’s decision Friday and said the group is considering an appeal.
“Judge Graham’s decision is flawed at its core because it disregards the choice of a competent individual to refuse medical treatment,” the ACLU wrote in a press release.
Brian Garnett, spokesman for the Corrections Department, said “the ruling speaks for itself.”
In the ruling Graham concluded that, “Nothing short of an injunction will prevent Coleman’s death by starvation.”
“In effect, Coleman is seeking to escape the full length of his sentence by his action,” Graham wrote.
On the constitutional issue of a hunger strike as free speech, Graham wrote that the “defendant has not demonstrated that, on balance Coleman’s free speech rights under the Connecticut constitution should obtain precedence over the plaintiff’s valid penological objectives, such as ensuring the safety, order, and security of all in the prison.”
During the five day trial on the permanent injunction prison officials argued that if Coleman was allowed to continue his hunger strike he posed a security risk. They said others would begin or copycat his behavior and if he was allowed to perish other prisoners would hold prison officials accountable.
“It is accurate that it is less than certain how prisoners will react and how the security and order of the correctional institutions, will be effected if Coleman is allow to starve himself to death while an inmate,“ Graham wrote. “However, the weight of evidence persuades the court that in all probability, there will be a negative impact on safety, security, and order.“
Previous coverage from the very beginning of the case is listed below: