Incarcerated Man Sues Pennsylvania Prison Over Safety Issues


May 5, 2022


Law & Justice


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(KUTZTOWN, Pa.) — Six years ago, Ramon Liz made what he calls one of the worst decisions of his life: driving under the influence of alcohol.

Liz steered his truck across the median into the opposite lane of traffic, colliding head-on with a car driven by Eugene Brozzetti. Liz spent a week in the hospital recovering from acute injuries. Brozzetti had multiple catastrophic injuries and spent the next six months in a diminished state until his death in August 2016.

Liz, 52, suffers chronic back pain and leg numbness as a result of the accident. In 2018, at his doctor’s advice, a device was implanted into his back that delivers electric pulses to stimulate the affected nerves. Since the accident, he uses a cane when walking.

Expressing remorse about his actions and Brozetti’s injuries, Liz told The Click, “I don’t make a habit of driving like that. I asked God to forgive me.”

Liz was convicted of aggravated assault by vehicle while DUI. He began serving a 3.5-year sentence in March 2020 at the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections’ State Correctional Institution in Collegeville, SCI Phoenix. Liz accepted his jail time as a consequence for what he did. But he did not expect to end up in a wheelchair during his time in prison.

Liz recalled that on Feb. 24, 2021, he was in the handicapped shower on H-Block. The broken drain was not working properly and caused water to accumulate, making the stainless steel shower floor even more slippery than usual. In addition, there were no anti-slip rubber mats inside or outside of the shower. Liz slipped and fell, injuring his left knee, back, shoulder, and neck.

That accident, and a similar one months later, led to long-lasting injuries from which Liz is still recovering. In late January, he sued the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PA DOC) for $11 million, citing SCI Phoenix’s disregard for the many grievances he submitted about the safety of the shower and his medical care following the accidents.

The PA DOC did not respond to requests for comment.

Image of prison shower stall.

Shower stall at SCI Phoenix. [Credit: Dan Gleiter,]

Grievances, Inadequate Pain Management, and Missed Meds

After he fell in the shower, Liz was taken to the medical department and given an X-ray, pain-relieving cream, and Tylenol. Liz, concerned about his stimulation device, sought an appointment with a doctor who was familiar with the device. He also requested an MRI.

A month after the accident, in March 2021, Liz began physical therapy for his knee and back, even though he had not undergone an MRI to determine the amount of damage and appropriate treatment. His stimulation device had not been examined. Liz attended physical therapy twice a month until June. He stopped going because he believed that the physical therapy was not helping.

“I think it’s just making it worse,” Liz said. “They don’t even know what’s wrong with [my knee].”

Over the next five months, Liz submitted four grievances that addressed the lack of safety mats in the handicapped shower, the lack of care regarding the pain he experienced, and the lack of adequate medical attention. The grievances were cursorily rejected. Liz also submitted two appeals: one to the facility’s superintendent, who upheld the previous rejections, and one to the PA DOC Central Office in Mechanicsburg, which was dismissed.

In July, Liz submitted a medical slip regarding the pain in his neck, lower back, and knee. He inquired about a knee brace that was ordered twice because it didn’t arrive the first time. The doctor informed Liz that there was a referral order in the computer system for a visit to an outside doctor who is familiar with the stimulation device. Liz again requested an MRI for his knee and back.

Throughout August, Liz’s pain worsened. He missed three visits with his daughter because he could not walk to the visitation area, about four city blocks from his cell block. He also requested that his nighttime medication be brought to his cell because he could not walk to the medical building. He did not receive a response and began missing his nighttime medication.

Liz suffers from bipolar disorder, depression, and insomnia, and he takes daily medication to treat symptoms of these disorders. He was unable to walk to the medical building to get the medication, so the facility canceled his prescriptions. According to the National Association of Mental Illness (NAMI), abruptly stopping the medication he took—mirtazapine— “may result in one or more of the following withdrawal symptoms: irritability, nausea, feeling dizzy, vomiting, nightmares, headache, and/or paresthesias (prickling, tingling sensation on the skin).”

Additionally, the NAMI website states that people with bipolar disorder who suddenly stop taking mirtazapine may switch from depression to mania.

Near the end of August 2021, Liz was called to the medical department to resume physical therapy. He was not able to comply. The excruciating pain in his knee made it impossible for him to walk to the medical building.

Two hours after Liz refused physical therapy, the facility provided him with a temporary wheelchair to use until his newly ordered wheelchair arrived.

The Second Shower Accident

On Sept. 9, 2021, Liz again showered in the same handicapped stall in H-Block. When he grabbed the safety bar, it came away from the wall, causing Liz to twist and fall again on his knees. He was taken to the medical department, where the staff member on duty gave him an injection in his left arm for pain and prescribed a seven-day dose of prednisone, a steroid that reduces inflammation. Liz requested an MRI.

Three days later, he filed a grievance about this accident. Even though the grievance officer admitted in the response that the safety bar came away from the wall, she denied the grievance.

In early April, Liz’s case was dismissed for failure to present a claim. Liz said he will revise the claim and file an amended case.

While at SCI Phoenix, Liz concentrates on self-improvement, for both personal reasons and in preparation for his release. He attends group therapy and is taking the necessary steps to be admitted to the Honor Block, which grants inmates additional privileges such as a later “lights out.” He has always been a spiritual person. In retrospect, he believes that the car accident was a divine message: “God wanted my attention — and he got it.”

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