A $3.25 million lawsuit settlement in no way makes up for the death of her son in a Michigan prison, Theresa Vaughn said, nor will it stop her campaign to improve prison conditions.
Timothy Souders, 21, died of dehydration and heat exhaustion after nearly four days shackled to a cement slab in a Jackson prison during an August 2006 heat wave, adding urgency to the prison reform movement and prompting Gov. Jennifer Granholm to commission a study of prison health care.
Vaughn said she will donate some of the settlement to two inmate advocacy organizations -- Prison Legal Services and the American Friends Service Committee.
"Just because they settled doesn't mean it stops here," she said. "I plan to continue this fight. Until they change the system where they can't torture people behind closed doors, I will speak out."
U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman approved the settlement in Detroit late last month, ending the lawsuit against 35 defendants, including state Corrections Department Director Patricia Caruso, other state employees and Correctional Medical Services, the company under contract to provide medical care in the prisons.
Although a nondisclosure agreement bars Vaughn from talking about the financial details, court records set the total payout at $3.25 million. The state will pay more than $2.8 million of that amount, Corrections Department spokesman Russ Marlan said.
The rest will be paid by insurance companies representing the defendants, who are not state employees. Attorneys for those insurance companies, not the state, insisted Vaughn sign the nondisclosure agreement.
Timothy Souders, serving a sentence for resisting arrest and destroying police property, was mentally ill and got in trouble for failing to follow prison rules. Surveillance tapes played in a court hearing a couple of months after his death showed him deteriorating mentally and physically during the nearly four days he was shackled in solitary confinement.
Vaughn, of Adrian, said she was surprised when the state and the other defendants agreed to settle the lawsuit. The case was extremely painful for her, she said, as attorneys for the defendants tried to shift the blame for her son's death onto her.
"It's very painful," she said. "Here you've gone through the death of a child, and they're trying to say, 'You didn't care about him, and he got what he deserved.'"
In settling the case, the state did not acknowledge responsibility for Souders' death, but an independent medical monitor in another lawsuit over prison conditions called the prison's use of four-point restraints "torture." As a result of Souders' death, U.S. District Judge Richard Enslen ordered the Corrections Department to stop using four-point restraints as punishment in the Jackson prison complex.
The Corrections Department is developing a policy that would limit the use of restraints throughout the prison system, spokesman Marlan said.
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Way to go Feiger!!! They chained up and killed a mentally ill man. He was previously diagnosed as being bipolar. He should never have been in prison in the first place. Thank God for attorneys like Feiger. This was not a frivolous lawsuit.