Six Months After a Vermont Inmate's Death in Pennsylvania, Officials Still Don't Have Answers | Off Message

Six Months After a Vermont Inmate's Death in Pennsylvania, Officials Still Don't Have Answers


  • Dreamstime
More than six months after Vermont inmate Roger Brown died of metastatic cancer in a Pennsylvania prison, apparently without being treated for the spreading disease, Vermont corrections officials haven’t completed a review of his death.

Deputy Corrections Commissioner Mike Touchette told the Vermont House Corrections and Institutions Committee in January that the investigation would be complete in short order.

“We are very near the conclusion of our — Vermont’s — administrative review, clinical review [of Brown’s death,]” Touchette told the committee on January 19.

Touchette explained then that Vermont’s investigation could not begin until law enforcement finished its investigation. Vermont officials, he said, would review the inmate’s medical history, security records, behavior records and other materials — such as Brown’s diary, in this case — to understand the circumstances surrounding his death.

“It’s really kind of a deep dive into this person’s case,” Touchette told the committee. “What do we know? What led up to this event? Were there diagnoses? Was this anticipated? Did they receive the level of care that they needed?”

Touchette said the Department of Corrections would have a report answering those questions and providing recommendations for improvement within “two or three weeks.”

Three months later, the department hasn’t released its report or otherwise provided an explanation of what happened to Brown, who died October 15, 2017.

He was one of more than 200 Vermont inmates living in Pennsylvania's Camp Hill prison because Vermont’s prison system doesn’t have enough secure beds to house them.

Three Vermont inmates — including Brown — who have spent time at Camp Hill have died since October.

Timothy Adams fell ill at the Pennsylvania prison in September and was transferred to a Vermont facility, where he died last November. The next month, Herbert Rodgers, a Vermont man convicted of disfiguring his estranged wife in a lye attack, died at Camp Hill.

The Vermont Department of Corrections has not completed reviews of any of the three deaths.

“These reviews are in progress,” Touchette wrote in an email to Seven Days, noting that Vermont does not conduct its review until Pennsylvania officials have finished theirs. He said Vermont corrections staff visited Camp Hill to conduct interviews with staff and inmates and to review records.

“As we, VTDOC, don’t have direct access to the records or to PADOC staff and [its] contractors, it does require the coordination of data sharing and responses to Vermont’s inquiries,” Touchette wrote. “There are follow-up pieces of information we are working to closing out.”

Vermont Defender General Matthew Valerio is also investigating Brown’s death. He said his review isn’t finished, either. Asked why the process was taking so long, Valerio said: “Maybe you should call Camp Hill.”

The defender general said Pennsylvania officials have been uncooperative with his office’s efforts.

“Every kernel of information that we get, we have to scrape and claw out of them,” he said. “They don’t have any incentive or regard for our ability to investigate there, and it’s difficult.”

Valerio said his office is awaiting more information before it releases a final report of its own about Brown's death. From the beginning, Valerio said, “it was quite apparent” that the inmate “failed to receive any kind of palliative care, and basically his end-of-life was painful needlessly.”

Valerio said Pennsylvania officials don’t treat his investigators like partners in the criminal justice system.

“We’re an annoyance to them,” he said.

The agreement between Vermont DOC and Pennsylvania is different than previous arrangements to house Vermont inmates out of state. Those deals were managed by contract — Vermont paid a private prison company to operate on its behalf at a facility in a different state.

The deal with Pennsylvania goes through an “interstate compact,” which allows officials in that state to treat Vermont inmates as if they were Pennsylvania inmates. Most protections afforded by Vermont DOC policy or Vermont law don’t apply to Vermonters housed at Camp Hill.

Susan McNaughton, a Pennsylvania DOC spokesperson, said officials there are cooperating with Vermont DOC officials but have no obligation to work with Valerio's office.

"Under the Interstate Corrections Compact (ICC), PA DOC and VT DOC have worked cooperatively to schedule and/or conduct appropriate mortality reviews," McNaughton wrote in an emailed statement. "Both parties have been in close communication in handling these matters. Under the ICC, PA DOC does not coordinate reviews with the VT Defender General’s Office, the VT DOC does that."

House Corrections and Institutions Committee chair Alice Emmons (D-Springfield) said that lack of control is one reason her committee asked state officials to consider moving inmates away from Camp Hill.

“I’m a little disturbed” about the delay in the investigations, she said, “but I feel that that’s one of the reasons we have asked DOC to pull out of that facility.”

Human Services Secretary Al Gobeille announced in February that the state would launch a search for a new housing arrangement for out-of-state inmates that gives Vermont officials more control over how its inmates are treated.