Groveland Prison Inmate Left Naked and Coughing Up Blood for Weeks
Seeks $2M from State
Sonyea, NY – A former inmate at Groveland Correctional Facility says staff neglected his medical needs to the extent he began hallucinating and wanted to confess to the Boston Marathon bombings.
Jon Fontaine is suing New York State for $2 million and the federal governmet for an undetermined amount of money. Pre-trial testimony begins in December 2016.
The lawsuit alleges Fontaine’s suicidal cries for help went ignored, resulting in near-fatal consequences, and that following a miraculous survival, staff at Groveland ignored his medical condition in what amounted to torture.
Among the defendants are a social worker and nurse practitioner at the prison in Livingston County.
Fontaine, 34, is serving a five-year sentence for stealing a quarter-million dollar treasure of ancient gold and silver coins that has never been found.
Incidents detailed in the lawsuit are depicted in an unpublished manuscript by former Rochester news reporter Susan Ashline, who dated Fontaine briefly before learning of his crimes. A Jacket off the Gorge (AJacketOffTheGorge.com) tells the story of their complicated relationship as well as Fontaine’s crimes. In a twist of irony, in 2004, while awaiting trial for an unrelated burglary, Fontaine staged his suicide at the Letchworth State Park gorge, leading to a search and rescue operation involving helicopters and hounds. While Fontaine was fleeing to the Pacific Northwest, authorities declared him dead after finding his jacket in the gorge.
The lawsuit alleges that while serving his sentence for the subsequent coin theft, Fontaine tried to commit suicide for real, after his mental capacity diminished and prison employees ignored his repeated requests for mental health care.
“The lawsuit reads like torture,” said Ashline, who remained a source of support for Fontaine after witnessing abuses in the criminal justice and penal systems.
According to the lawsuit, Fontaine had been taking the anti-depressant Remeron when he began serving his sentence in November 2012.
“His mental health spiraled downward,” said Ashline. “Soon after he went to prison, he would call in a panic, telling me he was putting in requests for help, but they were disregarded.”
The lawsuit claims prison staff eventually responded by telling Fontaine a psychiatrist wasn’t available for several months and to “tough it out.”
After being transferred to Groveland prison, Fontaine’s depression worsened, said Ashline. The lawsuit claims he told staff he believed the medication was causing him to feel suicidal, and a psychiatrist responded by increasing the dosage and adding new medication. Prison staff allegedly failed to monitor his mental state and his reaction to the medications.
When Fontaine relayed to prison social worker Mary France that he’d been having “daily death wishes” and believed it was tied to the medications, she allegedly brushed it aside and told him he could not let himself think that way. At about the same time, after reporting suicidal feelings for months, nurse practitioner Michael Cornwall prescribed Fontaine a two-month supply of a muscle relaxer for back pain and allowed him to take it his cell.
On April 12, 2013, in an attempt to kill himself, Fontaine swallowed almost all of the medication.
“An inmate should never be handed more than one pill at a time, let alone an inmate with a documented persistent and severe history of depression and suicidal behavior,” said Ashline, who was called to Wyoming Community hospital to pay last respects to Fontaine, found clinically dead.
Though he regained consciousness, Fontaine was removed from the ventilator while suffering pneumonia, severe pain and a disrupted heart rhythm. The hospital discharged him on April 17 with orders for medications to treat those issues.
According to the lawsuit, he was immediately returned to Groveland and put in a cell for nearly three weeks with no clothing or bedding, and the lights on 24 hours a day. He began coughing up blood, as documented by corrections officers, who reported they told medical staff.
Though Fontaine repeatedly requested medical attention and reported his symptoms to staff, including nurse Cornwall, staff allegedly failed to give him his prescribed heart medication and did nothing to address his pain and his continued coughing up blood.
Fontaine’s symptoms and lack of sleep became so extreme that, according to the lawsuit, he began hallucinating and told guards he was being tortured by the CIA and was ready to confess to the Boston Marathon bombings.
Three weeks after his suicide attempt, Fontaine was transferred to Mid-State Correctional Facility, north of Utica, where he repeatedly told staff of his ongoing symptoms. The lawsuit alleges the staff physician did not perform any medical assessments and told Fontaine his symptoms were all in his head and to take Tylenol.
According to the lawsuit Fontaine continued to cough up blood for more than a year after the suicide attempt, and continues to suffer heart, chest, hip and knee pain, and memory loss.
A lawsuit is also pending in federal court seeking an unspecified amount of damages for negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and violations of constitutional rights.
Fontaine is scheduled to be released from prison in September 2017.