Conn. judge rules that state can force-feed inmate

March 12, 2010 3:48:01 PM PST
A Connecticut judge has ruled that state prison officials may continue force-feeding a British inmate who began a hunger strike in September 2007 over claims he was convicted on a fabricated sexual assault charge. William Coleman, who is serving an eight-year sentence for rape, said he began his hunger strike to protest against what he considers a corrupt judicial system. The state began force-feeding Coleman in September 2008 after he stopped accepting fluids, but he argued that the feedings violate his right of free speech.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut estimates that state Department of Correction staff force-fed Coleman at least a dozen times. He has since voluntarily taken some fluids.

David McGuire, an ACLU attorney representing Coleman, said Friday that the group is reviewing a decision released at midweek by Superior Court Judge James Graham.

Graham signaled he wasn't swayed by Coleman's arguments that he had a right to refuse medical treatment.

"Neither the state or federal free speech guarantees allow Coleman to continue his hunger strike in contradiction to the penological needs of the prison" to maintain a safe, secure and orderly facility, Graham wrote in Wednesday's decision.

The ACLU issued a statement calling Graham's ruling "flawed at its core because it disregards the choice of a competent individual to refuse medical treatment."

Brian Garnett, a spokesman for the state prisons department, said "the ruling speaks for itself."

The judge said he was not persuaded by Coleman's claim that the Department of Correction was indifferent to his medical needs because officials ignored his right to refuse medical treatment. The DOC has said, by law, that the state must ensure the physical well-being of its prisoners.

Coleman weighed more than 250 pounds when he began his hunger strike after losing an appeal in 2007. His weight dropped to 139 pounds in September 2008, when he stopped taking fluids and began showing signs of dehydration.

That prompted prison officials to initially intravenously hydrate him with a saline solution containing electrolytes. Officials later inserted a feeding tube through Coleman's nose.

In court last year, Coleman said the tube insertion was exceedingly painful.

"I actually screamed out in pain quite a few times," said Coleman, who will be 52 when he's scheduled to be released in 2012. "I have never felt pain like that, ever."

Dr. Edward Blanchette, clinical director for the Department of Correction, who ordered the feedings, rebutted Coleman's claims that the tube was rammed down the inmate's nose with little concern for his comfort.

"I was as gentle as I could be in the face of a patient who was resisting me at the time," Blanchette testified.


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