DOC photo
Hartford Correctional Center (DOC photo)

The family of a man who died from bacterial meningitis contracted in a Connecticut jail is suing Correction Department officials for wrongful death, claiming they intentionally delayed his medical treatment.

The family of Louis DiStefano, 52, of Cromwell, filed the lawsuit earlier this month in Hartford Superior Court. DiStefano died in 2011 of bacterial meningitis while he was in state custody awaiting court proceedings on drug-related offenses and other charges.

The Center for Disease Control considers the bacterial form of meningitis to be a severe illness, but one from which most people can recover. On its website, the CDC stresses that treatment for meningitis should be started as soon as possible after onset. Appropriate antibiotics can reduce the chance of death from the illness to below 15 percent in most adults, according to the CDC.

DiStefano was incarcerated at Hartford Correctional Center in May 2011 while his case was being processed in Middletown Superior Court. According to the lawsuit, he began requesting medical treatment on June 20 and was repeatedly denied access to the infirmary by Correction Department staff.

The complaint says that DiStefano’s condition worsened between June 25 and 26.

“He experienced headaches and a fever on those dates but was refused medical consultations,” the lawsuit said.

By the morning of June 27, DiStefano was squirming and convulsing in his bed. He was then removed from the prison in a stretcher and transported to John Dempsey Medical Center where he died on June 29, according to the complaint. 

“During the entire week of June 20, 2011, through the time that Louis DiStefano had to be transported out of the facility on a stretcher, the defendants, and each of them, acting in their individual capacities, demonstrated deliberate indifference to Louis DìStefano’s serious illness in violation of the Eighth Amendment protections against cruel and inhumane punishment,” the complaint said.

The lawsuit lists as defendants Edward Maldonado, the facility’s warden at the time, and then-Correction Department Commissioner Leo Arnone. The complaint also names Hartford CC’s current warden, Walter Ford, and deputy wardens Sandy Bundy and Dennis Roche. Acting Correction Department Commissioner James Dzurenda also is included among the defendants.

The complaint calls the conduct of the Correction Department officials “extreme and outrageous” with regard to DiStefano’s illness.

“Defendants, in each of them, violated contemporary standards of decency by failing to provide Louis DiStefano with prompt medical attention and had he been promptly seen and placed on antibiotics, he would have survived,” the lawsuit said.

The complaint accuses Correction Department officials of creating an atmosphere that tolerates the “malicious treatment of inmates.” Meanwhile, the complaint says Hartford Correctional Center officials refused to investigate misconduct claims brought by DiStefano’s family.

The lawsuit alleges that officials intended to cause DiStefano severe emotional distress by delaying his treatment.

DiStefano’s family is seeking compensatory and punitive damages from each of the defendants as well as at least $15,000 to pay for legal fees. The family also incurred medical bills and funeral expenses, the lawsuit said.

Jaclyn Falkowski, a spokesman for Attorney General George Jepsen, said Jepsen’s office was reviewing the complaint and would respond at the appropriate time in court.

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