Poisoned prisoners take DOC officials to court

Inmates say corrections officer gave them bread laced with Ajax
July 19, 2013
Sussex Correctional Institution inmate Jamarr Campbell filed a federal lawsuit against Corrections Officer James Apgar, June 27.  Campbell and two other inmates say Apgar poisoned them with bread he had laced with Ajax. SOURCE DELAWARE STATE POLICE

Three inmates at Sussex Correctional Institution say they were tricked into eating bread laced with industrial cleaner.

Jamarr Campbell, Joseph Rushing and Tevon Savage filed a civil lawsuit in U.S. District Court of Delaware against Corrections Officer James Apgar, SCI Warden G.R. Johnson and DOC Commissioner Robert Coupe.

The men say Apgar put Ajax or Comet on half a loaf of bread, and then gave it to another inmate to put in the common area.  In the handwritten complaint, Campbell said he retrieved the bread and took it back to his cell, June 5. “Me, Joseph Rushing, Tevon Savage got very sick after eating the bread,” he wrote.

“C/O James Apgar came to room 309 and stated, ‘I hope y’all enjoy that homemade gritty bread because you people are always stealing,’” Campbell wrote.

Savage told Apgar “you people” was a racial slur, Campbell said.  “C/O James Apgar stated, ‘No, they won’t believe you, it’s your word over mine, boy,” the complaint states.

After eating the bread, the inmates say, they suffered headaches, stomach cramps, vomiting, loose stool, sharp chest pains and sore throats.  The complaint says Poison Control Center was called and doctors were sent to examine the three men.

Campbell said he was rushed to the infirmary because of chest pains, and nurses performed an electrocardiogram, which showed his heartbeat was abnormally slow.  “They thought my heart was going to stop beating,” Campbell wrote.

The inmates say they were prescribed Zantac, a medication that treats ulcers of the stomach and intestines.

In a handwritten statement attached to the complaint, inmate Steve Florestal said he witnessed Apgar put the cleaning product on the bread.  “On June 5, 2013, James Apgar told us that he was going to put something in the bread (Ajax/Comet) if we ate it would get sick. Later, after we all had locked in, I’m Steve, saw him put the stuff (Ajax) in the bread,” Florestal wrote.

“It was taken by an inmate in 309,” he wrote.  According to Florestal, Apgar said if the prisoners told anyone it would be his word against theirs. Eleven other inmates signed the complaint saying they were witnesses to the incident.

Campbell and Rushing, who filed suit June 27, are asking that disciplinary actions be taken against the defendants; they are also seeking $2.5 million in compensation and asking to be released from SCI with all charges dropped.

Campbell, who was arrested in January, is serving time on drug-related charges.  Rushing, who was arrested in February, is serving time for burglary charges.  Savage, who was arrested in February 2012, is a Tier II sex offender, and is serving time for charges of rape and unlawful sexual conduct.

Officials decline to comment on investigation

According to the complaint, Delaware State Police contacted Internal Affairs at SCI on June 11 and asked why they were not informed about the incident.  “On June 12, 2013 at 9:30 p.m., we were all called to the Lieutenant’s Office to sign our grievances, and he stated that it is a full investigating into this matter,” Campbell wrote.

In a June 14 statement, Campbell said officials were trying to cover up the incident.  “They aren’t letting us call out on the phones, they aren’t letting us have any visits from our family members, they are even checking our mail and not letting our mail go out.  They are trying to keep this from the public eyes,” Campbell wrote.  “Nobody been over here yet to see us.”

“Come and see us please,” he wrote.

Department of Corrections Spokesman John Painter said there is an investigation into an alleged incident involving Apgar.  Painter said he could not comment on an ongoing investigation.

He noted Apgar has been employed with the DOC since April 2009 and has worked at SCI since March 2012.  “Following standard procedure, Officer Apgar has been removed from the workplace with pay since June 19, 2013,” Painter said in an email.

Delaware State Police Master Cpl. Gary Fournier said an investigation into the incident is ongoing, and has been turned over to the Attorney General’s Office.

Jason Miller, spokesman for the Attorney General, said the AG’s review of the state police investigation is ongoing.