Mother of inmate sues Ore. over his death

SALEM, Ore. — The mother of a developmentally disabled inmate who died in a segregation cell at the Oregon State Penitentiary after an injection of an “undetermined drug or toxin” has filed a civil rights lawsuit against the state.

The lawsuit filed in federal court by Deborah Gifford of Lane County says her son’s death was “a result of the deliberate indifference” of prison employees, the Salem Statesman Journal reported Friday.

The paper said Richard Gifford, 22, died in May 2010, 10 days before he was to be released, but the Oregon Department of Corrections did not disclose the death.

A spokeswoman for the department, Jennifer Black, declined to comment on the suit and could not immediately say why the death wasn’t made public at the time.

Richard Gifford was transferred to the prison in January 2010 after 41 months in federal prison for robbing a bank of $1,200 in 2006.

The suit said it appears nobody read information from the federal Bureau of Prisons that Gifford “had mental health concerns, had spent the last six months in the Special Housing Unit, had suffered numerous head traumas in the past and had been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.”

Gifford was placed in the penitentiary’s general population without support or services, posing problems for a prisoner with his conditions, the suit said.

After 14 incidents of misconduct, he was sent to a segregated cell, and his condition deteriorated rapidly, the suit said. Less than a month before he died, it said, he flooded his cell and told corrections officers more than once that he was suicidal.

The prison medical department told corrections officers “an examination was not necessary because Gifford was ‘simply bored and trying to manipulate staff to relieve his boredom,’” the suit said.

Despite a requirement to check on the prisoners every half hour, guard logs from the day he died show one span of more than three hours when corrections officers didn’t check, the suit said.

The cause of death by an unspecified drug or toxin was established by a state medical examiner, the Statesman Journal said, quoting a two-page state police report from August 2010.

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