State sued after Whiting staff members placed on leave

BRIDGEPORT--  The attorney for a patient at Connecticut’s maximum security mental health facility is suing the state over allegations of abuse.

An Attorney for William Shehadi alleges the 58-year-old suffered torture and negligence at the hands of staff at Whiting for more than a decade.

“Repeatedly tapping poking hitting and kicking Will often so hard that they kicked him out of bed and onto the floor,” Ponvert said.

Shehadi’s Attorney Antonio Ponvert said hours of video tape recorded over just under a month’s time shows 12 defendants named in the complaints abusing Shehadi.

“Sticking objects in his ear. Spraying him in the face with an aerosol can,” Ponvert said. “A nurse grinding his crotch and buttocks into bills face.”

In what Ponvert calls evidence of earlier signs of abuse, Shehadi wrote letters pleading for help as far back as 2006. Ponvert said the claims are the result of a whistleblower who came forward about the abuse on March 21 of 2017

Defendants named in the claims are some of more than 40 swept up in patient abuse investigations at Whiting.

The state has since separated Whiting from Connecticut Valley Hospital. Ponvert,  joined by Shehadi’s brother and longtime friend said the lawsuits aim to hold the abusers and state workers accountable.

It also seeks injunctive relief ensuring Shehadi gets proper treatment at Whiting.

“To provide adequate medical and mental health care,” Ponvert said. “To ensure continued video monitoring of his cell. To appoint a neutral advocate.”

 Shehadi’s family and attorney also hope the lawsuit leads to reforms at the State of Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.

“There is something dreadfully wrong with how things are done at this hospital,” Ponvert said.

The lawsuits are seeking monetary damages which the attorney said will be decided by a jury. Shehadi is being held at Whiting on a court order after being acquitted by reason of insanity in the 1995 homicide of his father.

In December, the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services had placed four Connecticut Valley Hospital Whiting Forensic Division staff members on administrative leave pending the outcome of a new investigation into alleged patient abuse.

These new allegations are different from the patient abuse case in which 10 Whiting workers have been charged and dozens have been suspended.

“New systems and processes in place helped to identify the incident quickly, allowing us to respond immediately,” said DMHAS Commissioner Miriam Delphin-Rittmon. “Client abuse will not be tolerated and staff will be held accountable for their actions.”

According to DHMAS, the department was able to “respond quickly” to the abuse allegation, thanks to security camera feeds and new procedures in effect.

"During the course of monitoring the camera feeds, a possible client abuse incident was identified," a written release states. "DMHAS has initiated a full investigation into this potential abuse. The staff will remain on administrative leave until a comprehensive human resource investigation is completed and appropriate disciplinary action is taken."

In addition to installing state-of-the-art video monitoring staffed by a contracted security company, DMHAS said they have taken the following measures:

  • Changed Whiting Maximum Security Unit management team.
  • Increased staff training and managerial presence on-site.
  • Improved mechanisms for staff/management communication.
  • Hired additional staff.
  • Increased office hours for client rights officers and client advocate.
  • Retrained all staff on procedures to immediately report any alleged violations of DMHAS Policies, procedures, regulations or work rules, which include abuse of any kind, to their supervisor.