DOC settles inmates’ suit

As part of settlement, DOC now in process of hiring physician

Corrections Commissioner Vincent S. Attao and DOC director Gregory Castro have settled with William Kapono Mathewson and 13 other inmates to resolve the department’s alleged failure to provide them with adequate medical care.

Mathewson is serving a 15-year prison term for stabbing a Rota physician with a fishing spear. The 13 other inmates are Steven Aguon, Ray Anthony Babauta, Joseph Barto, George Cruz, Donald Hocog, Nena Langu, Wei Lin, Joaquin Lizama, Daniel Mauricio, Carlos Ramangmau, Alfredo Reyes, Price Shoiter, and Xinqiang Zheng.

The inmates are suing Attao and Castro in federal court for allegedly providing them inadequate medical care and mental health treatment, and subjecting them to solitary confinement.

The inmates alleged that they were subjected to excessive solitary confinement, in violation of the 8th and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

The settlement deal, however, does not mean that Attao and Castro are admitting liability. They dispute the inmates’ claims.

Attao, Castro, and the 14 inmates inked the settlement agreement.

Northern Marianas Protection & Advocacy Systems Inc. legal counsel Jeanne H. Rayphand is representing the inmates. Assistant attorney general Hessel E. Yntema is cousel for Attao and Castro.

Following the settlement, Rayphand and Yntema asked the U.S. District Court for the NMI to dismiss the lawsuit with prejudice. That means the inmates can no longer re-file the case.

The settlement resolves the issues of medical care, mental health care, dental care, eye care, medications, sanctions matter, records, and DOC rules, regulations, policies, and procedures.

Attao and Castro disclosed that they are in the process of hiring a physician to provide on-site medical care at the prison beginning Sept. 1, 2018.

Attao and Castro have agreed to set an appointment for each of the 14 plaintiffs to be examined and treated by a physician on or before Sept. 15, 2018.

If hiring the physician is delayed, each of the 14 inmates will be scheduled for an appointment with another medical doctor on or before Oct. 1, 2018.

If an appointment is not available before the Oct. 1, 2018, one shall be made as soon as possible after.

The physician shall be asked to examine and prescribe treatment and care for the following inmates:

-Aguon, for shoulder pain, tonsilitis, joint pain, and heart condition.
Hocog for injuries and pain in his feet.

-Langu for back pain.

-Lin for head injury and continuing pain.

-Lizama for back pain and pain in elbows and knees.

-Ramangmau for seizures and injuries received during seizures.

-Shoiter for continuing pain in his knees and shoulders.

-Zheng for injured knees causing pain.

On mental health care, the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. has recently employed a psychiatrist.

Attao and Castro shall, among other terms, schedule an appointment with the psychiatrist for Aguon and Mathewson to be examined and treated as soon as possible but no later than Oct. 1, 2018. If an appointment is not available that date, one shall be made as soon after.

Attao and Castro shall also schedule an appointment with a dentist for Babauta, Barto, Hocog, Ramangmau, Reyes, and Shoiter to be examined within 60 days. Attao and Castro have agreed to provide continuing dental care.

An ophthalmologist will be contracted to see and treat Cruz, Lizama, Mauricio, Reyes, Shoiter, and Zheng within 60 days.

Prescribed medicines would also be made available.

DOC officials have also agreed not to impose solitary confinement longer than 15 days, without the agreement of a psychiatrist, a physician, or mental health provider.

Before imposing any sanction resulting in solitary confinement, Attao and Castro shall consider the facts on which the sanction is based and impose a commensurate sanction.

On records issue, Attao and Castro shall provide NMPASI with all of the inmates’ records, both medical and their files held by DOC. Such records to be provided for inspection within 24 hours of a request from NMPASI.

Regarding rules, regulation, policies, and procedures, Attao and Castro shall, among other things, develop and implement a plan to eliminate the risk of serious harm to prisoners due to inadequate medical care, mental health care, dental care, and eye care.

The merits of the inmates’ complaint have yet to be decided by the court.

Rayphand and Yntema said the agreement is made for the purpose of settling all claims against Attao and Castro, and any and all claims arising from or related to the allegations.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a veteran journalist who has covered all news beats in the CNMI. Born in Lilo-an, Cebu City in the Philippines, De la Torre graduated from the University of Santo Tomas with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He is a recipient of many commendations and awards, including the CNMI Judiciary’s prestigious Justice Award for his over 10 years of reporting on the judiciary’s proceedings and decisions. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@saipantribune.com

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