Dennis Austin: Pennsylvania Prisoner Who Died With Bedsores Should Spark Probe, Lawyer Says
ERIE, Pa. -- A former federal prosecutor has asked for a criminal investigation into the death of Dennis Austin, a Pennsylvania prison inmate with grossly infected bedsores that his family said caused or contributed to his death.
"This is an outrage and people ought to be highly incensed about it," Jeffrey J. Del Fuoco, now a private lawyer working for Austin's family, told The Huffington Post. "There is a criminal wrong that needs to be addressed here."
Del Fuoco has asked the district attorney in Erie to investigate Austin's New Year's Day death at the State Correctional Institution in Albion. The 48-year-old convict had been diagnosed in July 2010 with lung and bone cancer that the coroner said killed him. Austin, committed to the prison in 1991 for rape and kidnapping, was serving a 28-to-57-year sentence.
Austin's sister, Paula Thomas, of Erie, provided The Huffington Post with post-mortem photos of her brother showing bedsores covering a large portion of his body. Thomas said the photos show serious neglect. "It's awful. It's just awful," Thomas said. "Yeah, he was in prison, but he served his time all those years and yet he had to suffer like that."
Del Fuoco said the photos show "severe, prolonged inattention and neglect." He said the pictures should "shock the sensibilities of anyone with any humanity whatsoever."
WARNING: GRAPHIC PHOTOS OF DENNIS AUSTIN (Article Continues Below)
The lawyer said medical experts he has consulted suggested Austin died from gross negligence.
"I have spoken to a major forensic pathologist, whose preliminary opinion is if the wounds did not outright cause [Austin's] death, at bare-bones minimum they contributed to it ... He indicated to me that there is no question that we have gross neglect," Del Fuoco said.
Del Fuoco's letter to Erie County District Attorney Jack Daneri seeks a formal investigation. Daneri did not immediately return calls for comment.
The letter to the D.A. cites The Huffington Post's previous coverage of the case -- in particular, comments made by Erie County Coroner Lyell Cook. Cook told HuffPost last month that Austin died as a result of stage-four metastatic lung cancer. Cook said the care Austin received at SCI Albion was "appropriate and as good as you would find anywhere else." The coroner also said the bedsore ulcers "looked bad," but were not evidence of neglect.
"For the Erie County coroner to make the type of statements he made to [The Huffington Post] seems completely ridiculous and irresponsible," Del Fuoco said.
Del Fuoco said prison officials refuse to investigate Austin's "true cause of death" and have denied his family's request for a publicly-funded autopsy. Del Fuoco said the family does not have the funds to pay for a private autopsy.
Susan Bensinger, deputy press secretary for the state Department of Corrections, last month declined to discuss the details of Austin's death "out of respect for the privacy of the inmate."
READ JEFFREY J. DEL FUOCO'S INVESTIGATION REQUEST: (Article Continues Below)
Del Fuoco said he does not know the details of Austin's criminal conviction.
"That has no play in this. That's irrelevant," Del Fuoco said. "I don't care what your politics are, this is an outrage and people ought to be highly incensed about it."
Regardless of the district attorney's findings, Del Fuoco said it is "highly likely" he will file a wrongful death suit on behalf of the family.
"This isn't going away, so somebody needs to do something about it," Del Fuoco said.
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