An inmate who has been on a hunger strike for more than six years was back in court Thursday because he has refused to register as a sex offender.
William B. Coleman was led into an Enfield courtroom dressed in an orange jumpsuit and weighing more than 100 pounds less than he was when he was first sentenced prison in May 2005.
The prosecutor said she’s still waiting for information from U.S. immigration officials and sought to postpone the arraignment on his refusal to register as a sex offender until July 25. It’s the sixth time the case has been postponed.
Coleman asked Judge Howard Scheinblum for a speedy resolution to the matter. Scheinblum told him “immigration is part and parcel of the case” and he would just have to wait until July.
But Coleman, who was sentenced to eight years in prison after being convicted of a 2002 sexual assault of his ex-wife, has been waiting longer than eight years for what he describes as “justice.”
According to the most recent arrest warrant, Coleman was scheduled to be released into the community in February 2012 on earned early release credits. He completed his sentence for the sexual assault in December 2012, but the Department of Correction got word he was refusing to register as a sex offender “as an act of protest.”
Coleman has always known that upon his release from prison he would be deported to Great Britain, his home country.
Friends who were in court on Thursday to support Coleman said he when he went to prison he lost his green card.
Once Coleman refused to register as a sex offender, “a decision was made to rescind his early release date,” the affidavit says.
Coleman was scheduled to be released to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Massachusetts for deportation proceedings to England directly after his release from the Department of Correction. As a protest, “Coleman is deliberately refusing to register as a sex offender while incarcerated as an attempt to remain incarcerated to avoid deportation,” according to the affidavit.
The British Consulate may also be refusing to pay for the airfare to send Coleman back to England. If that’s the case, “deportation could be postponed and he would be released to the community,” the affidavit says.
Rob Burton, who played soccer with Coleman and who also is a native of Great Britain, speculated that the U.S. has some sort of agreement with Great Britain for reciprocal registration of sex offenders, but he was not certain of the details.
His friends believe Coleman’s hunger strike is the longest in the nation’s history.
Coleman stopped eating solid food in September 2007 and stopped taking any liquids a year later to protest what he has called a wrongful conviction. He has continued the hunger strike by not eating any solid food for six years, and taking liquids when necessary. He has been force fed by prison officials several times since the trial court gave them permission to do so in 2008. An attorney from the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut stays in touch with Coleman to monitor the force feedings.
Last March, the Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s 7-0 decision confirming the state’s decision to force feed him to preserve his life.
“It is clear that the commissioner appropriately sought to preserve the defendant’s life using the safest, simplest procedure available, rather than improperly seeking to punish the defendant for engaging in his hunger strike,” the justices wrote in their decision. “We therefore conclude that the trial court properly determined that the weight of international authority does not prohibit medically necessary force-feeding under such circumstances.”
Burton said the force feeding continues to this day and he worries about how his friend is being treated. He said that according to Coleman’s last letter he is being held in solitary confinement because he complained to the warden about his treatment.
David McGuire, an attorney with the ACLU, said Coleman is being held in a single cell in the medical ward and is continuing his hunger strike against what he views as a corrupt judicial system.