District Attorney finds medical staff “inadequate” but not criminal in prison death

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SCRANTON, LACKAWANNA COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — The death of a Lackawanna County inmate back in the spring was caused by “woefully inadequate” conduct by the prison’s medical staff, not criminal wrongdoing, the county’s district attorney, Mark Powell, said Tuesday.

According to the district attorney’s office, an extensive investigation revealed that when David Dewald, 43, a federal inmate housed at the county prison became unresponsive, nurses that attended to him could have acted with more urgency.

“A thorough review of all the evidence in this case shows corrections staff followed all procedures and protocols in extracting Mr. Dewald from his cell, but that the response by the nurses who attended to him after he became unresponsive was woefully inadequate,” Powell said in a statement. “There simply was no sense of urgency.”

Dewald was pronounced dead at Geisinger Community Medical Center after corrections staff extracted him from his cell on March 24th.

Despite the death, however, Powell says there is “insufficient cause to charge anyone with a crime under state law.” The investigation will be referred to the Department of Justice to search for violations of federal law.

“While Mr. Dewald’s death was tragic, there is no evidence of criminal intent on the part of anyone
involved in the incident,” Powell said.

According to the district attorney, Dewald was previously treated for mental illness and was deprived of psychiatric medication since February 28th, 2020 while incarcerated at the county jail. The inmate reportedly told guards that he was hearing voices and threatened to harm himself.

Powell said guards spent nearly an hour attempting to get Dewald to comply and explained the extraction process before forcing him out of the cell. The district attorney says a video reviewed by him shows Dewald resisting removal.

Powell says he will use his position on the Lackawanna County Prison Board to “recommend a
number of reforms in the wake of the incident, including policies for handling mentally ill prisoners,
review of medical staff certifications and training.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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