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Dauphin County hired ‘expert’ to review jail deaths, but won’t release report

  • Joshua Vaughn/PennLive
FILE PHOTO: Dauphin County Prison

 Michael Rubinkam / AP Photo

FILE PHOTO: Dauphin County Prison

In September 2020, Dauphin County Commissioners announced they hired an independent investigator for an “in-depth medical review” after two men housed at the Dauphin County Prison died within days of each other from possible medical neglect.

The deaths were the ninth and 10th at the jail within 20 months, sparking public pressure and protests outside the jail.

More than two years later, however, the results of that review remain unknown. The county has refused to release the report saying it was completed to shield themselves from lawsuits.

It’s unclear how in-depth the investigation was. The Florida man paid to complete the investigation refused to provide his credentials to PennLive and his review took 12 hours, or less than two working days.

Compare that to a review that same year of the former warden, who was suspected of inappropriate conduct with a person who worked at the jail. That investigation required 55 hours, according to invoices obtained by PennLive.

“To spend less than two days conducting an investigation into the death of an inmate is shocking,” said Alan Denenberg, an attorney for the family of Jimmy King – one of the men who was subject of the investigation. “It shows the wanton disregard for the care of inmates in Dauphin County and a lack of interest in finding out what really happened and what the prison can do to prevent this from happening in the future. The families of both victims should be outraged by this.”

Both deaths raised questions about whether Herbert Tilghman, 46, and King, 50, could have survived if their medical complaints were believed by prison staff and handled differently. Instead, they both died while awaiting trial. Tilghman died from complications of a stomach ulcer and King, from an untreated brain bleed.

The public announcement of an investigation raised hopes that county officials would get to the bottom of what happened and improve health outcomes for people housed at the jail, most of whom have not been convicted but are awaiting trial.

Since then, six more people incarcerated in Dauphin County have died, and the jail ranks among the deadliest in the state.

Michael Murphy, 76, who operates Correctional Consulting in Coral Gables, Florida, was hired by the county to investigate the deaths of Tilghman and King. Murphy spent seven hours looking into King’s death and five hours reviewing Tilghman’s death, according to his invoices to the county that were obtained by PennLive.

The county paid him using $1,500 from money collected from incarcerated people to make phone calls to friends and loved ones, the records show.

In comparison, the county paid multiple attorneys at the Post and Schell law firm more than $17,000 to investigate alleged improprieties by former Director of Corrections Brian Clark.

Last month, PennLive attempted to get a copy of any findings from the “in-depth medical review” of King and Tilghman’s deaths through Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Law, but was denied access by the county.

County officials said they did not have to turn over the reports because they were protected by attorney-client privilege. The reports, the county said, were created, at least in part, to prepare the county to defend itself against lawsuits that may come as a result of the deaths.

While announcing the hiring of Murphy, commissioners described him as an “experienced, independent investigator.” But when asked recently, county spokesman Brett Hambright provided no explanation about who Murphy is and Murphy also refused to provide any details about his experience.

“I’m not going to talk about anything,” said Murphy, whose company does not have a website and who appears to operate from his home.

A public records search by PennLive showed Murphy has operated Correctional Consulting for nearly two decades and has or had licenses as a registered nurse in multiple states, including Pennsylvania. Murphy was hired by the Monroe County, New York Sheriff to provide “review, auditing and monitoring” of jail medical and mental health services from around 2007 through at least March 2021.

During that time, more than 20 people died in the Monroe County Jail and the county ranked as having one of the highest levels of deaths from natural causes and suicides in jails in New York counties.

Hambright said the county is “not offering commentary on events of years past, some of which involve or involved litigation” but noted the county is currently seeking candidates for a newly hired internal affairs investigator for the jail who will review “uses of force and instances of injury and death at the prison.”

During the October prison board meeting, county solicitor Frank Lavery said the public release of information from the investigations would depend on the situation, and in some cases the findings would not be released to the public.

King’s family has filed a lawsuit against Dauphin County to try to find out more about his death. They claim jail and medical staff ignored his repeated complaints which indicated he was suffering a traumatic brain injury. Instead, they allowed King to suffer for several weeks until he was found unresponsive in his cell on August 21, according to the lawsuit.

He died eight days later, on Aug. 29, 2020, at the hospital.

King first was injured when his cellmate struck him in the head during a fight earlier that month. PennLive later found out King was struck in the head a second time with a tablet computer sometime around August 14, a mysterious incident that was not revealed to the public, but was noted in his medical records.

Dauphin County Coroner Graham Hetrick ruled King’s death a homicide. Still, District Attorney Fran Chardo declined to file charges because he said evidence suggested King’s cellmate acted in self-defense when he punched King on August 9.

During the same time frame that King’s family says he wasn’t getting proper medical help, Tilghman died inside the jail on August 20, 2020 from complications of a stomach ulcer.

Jail reports by corrections officers obtained by PennLive show Tilghman had a medical emergency a day earlier and was seen by medical staff. He complained of stomach pains at the time but was returned to his cell.

A day later, Tilghman collapsed while in the shower. When medical staff arrived, they made remarks that Tilghman was faking his illness, according to a report filed by a jail captain who responded to the scene.

Tilghman died less than 30 minutes later.

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