ALBION, PA. -- A Pennsylvania woman said photos of her dead brother that show grossly infected bedsores covering a large portion of his body are evidence of serious neglect while he was incarcerated in Abion state prison. Officials deny her claims.
"It's awful. It's just awful," Paula Thomas, of Erie, told The Huffington Post. "Yeah, he was in prison, but he served his time all those years and yet he had to suffer like that."
Austin, committed to the prison in 1991 for rape and kidnapping, was serving a 28-to 57-year sentence.
"As with any inmate death, outside agencies were notified ... Out of respect for the privacy of the inmate, we don't discuss details," said Susan Bensinger, deputy press secretary for the state Department of Corrections.
WARNING: GRAPHIC PHOTOS OF DENNIS AUSTIN (Article Continues Below)
Thomas said her brother's health significantly declined after hip surgery a few months ago.
"That surgery is what we think caused him to be bedridden in the first place," Thomas said. "The doctors said he was supposed to get physical therapy twice a week, but the physical therapist came once and showed the inmates what to do with him so that's probably why he never got up again."
After Austin's death, the funeral home notified Thomas that her brother had numerous bedsores all over his body. She said she had visited her brother at prison infirmary prior to his death and was unaware of the sores, but suspected something was wrong.
"I noticed a bad odor coming from him," Thomas said. "I knew it was not a body odor, but that it was something else. We were not allowed to lower his blanket and the only sores that were noticeable to us were on his elbow and ear. The ear got so bad it was literally in half and was draining green and yellow fluid.
"I asked if he was on antibiotics and they said no, the doctor did not order one," Thomas continued. "They said he was on a cream antibiotic. I said its draining green and yellow stuff so that's got to be an infection. I said he feels hot all the time but they said he did not have a fever."
Thomas asked the funeral director to take pictures of her brother's injuries. Another family member asked state police to investigate. The pictures have since been reviewed by the Erie County Coroner's Office.
"The care was appropriate and as good as you would find anywhere else," Erie County Coroner Lyell Cook told The Huffington Post. "Admittedly, they looked very bad, but we found no evidence to indicate any kind of neglect."
Cook said Austin died as a result of stage four metastatic lung cancer.
"When you get someone like that, whose body tissues are breaking down from the chemotherapy and the radiation and they are unable to move, bedsores are almost impossible to eradicate," Cook said. "All they can do is treat them as they occur."
Cook added: "If there would have been any sign of neglect or abuse we would have been all over it. We have nothing to gain by not doing our job."
Sgt. Mark Zaleski, a state police spokesman in Erie, said investigators do not suspect foul play.
"The investigation will be completed by our criminal investigators." Zaleski said. "The District Attorney's Office indicated that no charges are expected to be filed."
Thomas said she plans to hire an attorney.
"His death was not normal. Those were not regular bed sores," she said.
The Huffington Post showed the photos of Austin to Gary Peterson, a medicolegal death investigator with the Minnesota Regional Medical Examiner's Office. Peterson, not involved in the Austin investigation, acknowledged the photos are shocking, but agreed with investigators in Erie.
"He was really, really engulfed in them, but I don't see anything that would suggest there is foul play here," Peterson said. Bedsores "can be really bad when you have a condition like cancer.
"Could the prison have done something? Probably not," Peterson said.
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