Marcus Penman, 39, was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2005 for drug-related charges. Penman was reported to have suffered from bipolar disorder, antisocial disorder and ADHD while incarcerated and was left untreated, per a USA TODAY investigation. During a mental health episode, prison guards attempted to deescalate the situation with excessive force, resulting in Penman’s death.
April 25, 2017, Penman was suffering a mental health episode, banging his head against the cell door. Per footage of the incident obtained by USA TODAY, Penman was pepper-sprayed three times, tased with an electric shock and dragged out of his cell. In the civil suit, prison officials said Penman was “so out of control” the team had resorted to extracting him from his cell after other methods of calming him down failed, reported USA TODAY.
From USA TODAY:
Penman was put in a restraint chair, choked by an officer, and then covered with a spit hood as he gagged on residual pepper spray. He began making the harsh, grating sounds of a man dying. As he lay motionless and unresisting, a guard continued to press a stun shield against his face and body, a civil rights lawsuit alleges.
For 10 minutes after Penman stopped breathing, no one provided aid, Penman’s family alleges in a civil lawsuit in a case that has been fought by state officials for five years.
Per USA TODAY’s investigation, none of the officers who were involved in the incident were trained to place an inmate in a restraint chair and those who used the stun shield and pepper spray had not known how to properly discharge those tools.
The day after Penman died, his death was ruled to be a result of “self-inflicted” trauma by Kentucky State Police. His widow, Alice Penman, learned of his death through news articles that claimed he committed suicide. However, a medical examiner ruled his death as a homicide after they found Penman suffered a partially collapsed lung, broken blood vessels in his left eye from a lack of oxygen and blunt force trauma to the head, per USA TODAY’s report.
When his death was investigated in 2018, the grand jury found no evidence of criminal conduct among the prison officials involved in the incident.
Penman’s mental health had begun deteriorating by 2017 and he was never offered any psychiatric treatment besides a medication to treat his bipolar disorder which, in turn, triggers psychosis and mania, reported USA TODAY. In addition, Penman was being held in 23-hour isolation. When his request for counseling was answered, the counselor reported Penman was “trying to present as psychotic” in a ploy to remain in segregated housing.
From USA Today:
Corrections experts told USA TODAY that claims of medical neglect and mistreatment of the mentally ill are not only a problem in Kentucky, but are also endemic to the U.S. penal system, which was never intended or equipped to deal with the mentally ill.
At the federal level, mental illness is often underreported or underdiagnosed because once it is on the record, the prison becomes responsible for addressing it and providing care, said Elizabeth Sinclair Hancq, the Treatment Advocacy Center’s research director.
“That sounds, most likely, maybe that was part of this as well,” Sinclair Hancq continued. “His symptoms were being dismissed and ignored in part because of these pressures to not officially acknowledge individuals’ challenges.”
Spokesperson Katherine Williams for the Kentucky Department of Corrections defended the actions of the prison officials in an email to USA TODAY writing, “Due to Mr. Penman’s actions, Kentucky State Penitentiary staff were forced to intervene in order to stop Mr. Penman from continuing to seriously injure himself.”
Penman’s family filed charges against the prison officials involved for neglecting his need for mental health care and violating his Constitutional right to receive it. Alice Penman also alleged the prison guards failed to provide Penman the urgent medical care he needed for the injuries he had suffered, reported USA TODAY.
The lawsuit names seven team members as well as the southwestern Kentucky prison’s unit administrator and the commander of the cell entry team. The prison officials have requested to have the case dismissed and state officials believe they should be granted qualified immunity, per USA TODAY. However, Senior Judge Thomas B. Russell found enough evidence for a jury to decide whether Penman’s rights were violated, specifically the Eighth Amendment which protects inmates from “cruel and unusual” punishment.
“I don’t feel like he deserved what he got, how he was treated up until the moment of his death. I feel like there could have been a better way to handle that situation,” said Alice via USA TODAY.