Montgomery County inmate lawsuit nearing settlement

FONDA — Montgomery County is in the process of settling an on-going class-action lawsuit and conditions-of-confinement case that was filed by two former inmates against the county, former sheriff Michael Amato and the former county correction facility administrator, Michael Franko.

Former inmates of the Montgomery County Correctional Facility, Perry Hill and James Rogers, filed the lawsuit claiming that the jail failed to provide adequate nutritional sustenance while serving time in the jail.

During the Montgomery County Legislature’s regular meeting on Feb. 25, legislators discussed settling the lawsuit during executive session.

Following the executive session, legislators passed a resolution to execute a Settlement Agreement. The resolution does not go into details of that agreement. Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort said he cannot comment on the settlement because it has not yet been finalized, but can go into further detail when it does become finalized.

“There is a tentative agreement for settlement that has been brought before the board but has not yet been finalized,” Ossenfort said.

According to the lawsuit which was filed in August 2018 by the Law Offices of Elmer Robert Keach, III and Migliaccio & Rathod, while Hill was detained from September 2013 to March 2014, he experienced hair loss, receding and bleeding of his gums, dizziness and nausea. He also lost 26 pounds.

Rogers, who was detained from June 2014 to February 2015, lost approximately 15 pounds and suffered from hair loss, the lawsuit states.

“Hill testified that he ‘complained all the time’ to corrections officers about there being ‘so little food’ but that he never received a response,” the lawsuit states. “Hill testified that he ate cocoa butter sticks, vitamins that he purchased from the commissary, and toothpaste to supplement his diet.”

Hill “witnessed fights over food and had difficulty sleeping because he was hungry,” the lawsuit states.

According to the lawsuit, “Rogers lost approximately 15 pounds during his eight-month admission to the jail,” and asserts this “weight loss [was] substantial given he is 6’1, and is an extremely thin man.” Rogers testified the he and others filed grievances “that the food wasn’t healthy enough.” Rogers testified that he was hungry “most of the day” while at MCCF even though he received three meals a day.

The lawsuit states the food provider for MCCF since 2010, Trinity Services Group, set the menu and specified the serving sizes for the inmates who are suppose to receive three meals a day with 2,900 calories each day. Trinity requires the jail to make a substitution if an item on the menu is unavailable.

According to the lawsuit, Lynn Dumar, who is an employed cook at the jail, “explained an item might be substituted if they were out of stock or it was winter and the food delivery truck did not arrive on time. Dumar stated that, generally, a vegetable is replaced with another type of vegetable and starch is replaced with another starch.”

The lawsuit states that Dumar testified that she instructs inmates who work in the kitchen, to use specific utensils to measure the right proportions.

Kenneth Crouse, an inmate who worked in the kitchen, testified that three or four times each week “we were told to give less amounts because it was running low,” the lawsuit states.

According to the lawsuit, former sheriff Amato testified he was aware that inmates were complaining for more food, and that he believed they were complaining about portion size because they wanted commissary, which had been removed.

Heidi Jay Silver, a research associate professor of medicine, analyzed a number of documents from Trinity’s menu and nutrient analysis of menus in which “Silver opined that the inmates of MCCF “experienced clinically significant weight loss during the period in which they were incarcerated” because the calories they consumed at the jail were “less than the energy requirements for maintaining their initial admission body weight.”

Eating an inadequate diet can cause hair loss from a deficit in protein; bleeding gums can be caused by a vitamin C deficiency; skin changes can be caused from a vitamin E deficiency and fatty acids; and [the] effect of hunger is consistent with the aberrant eating behaviors reported by inmates who consumed toothpaste, cocoa butter and toilet paper to “assuage their hunger,” the lawsuit states.

By Patricia Older

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