State corrections officers pummeled an inmate serving a life sentence for the murder of a Suffolk County mom, driving him to suicide, a disturbing new lawsuit charged Monday.
Two sergeants and two corrections officers at Wende Correctional Facility outside Buffalo beat Dante Taylor with fists and batons, hogtied his arms and legs and then threw him down a flight of stairs on Oct. 6, 2017, according to the lawsuit filed by his mother, Darlene McDay. Photos included in the suit show Taylor’s black-and-blue swollen face after the incident. Less than 12 hours later, Taylor, 22, hanged himself in his cell.
“These officers, they’re public servants. They don’t have the right to inflict punishment on people. They don’t have the right to decide that somebody should be punished or abused or brutalized,” McDay, 43, told the Daily News.
The heartbroken mom said Wende prison staff treated her with callous indifference — even on the day of her son’s death. She said she couldn’t bring herself to look at the disturbing photos of Taylor’s face.
“I’m afraid if I actually see [the photos] that I just won’t be able to keep going,” McDay said. “I’m afraid if I looked at it that I just wouldn’t be able to deal with it.”
The 45-page lawsuit filed in Buffalo Federal Court against the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision and prison staff details numerous signs that Taylor was a suicide risk. Over the course of a year Taylor was in and out of solitary confinement, abusing drugs that strained his fragile mental state, tormented by corrections officers and neglected by medical staff, the suit charges, citing medical documents, incident reports and inmate accounts.
Taylor was sentenced to life in prison for the rape and murder of Medford, L.I., mom Sarah Goode in 2014. He was accused of stabbing the 21-year-old woman more than 40 times and leaving her body in a wooded area. Taylor was pursuing an appeal alleging prosecutorial misconduct and other claims at the time of his suicide.
Since Taylor’s murder case was under appeal at the time of his death, a judge entered an order vacating the conviction under a process called abatement.
Her son’s alleged crime didn’t justify his treatment behind bars, McDay said.
“He was a human being as well,” she said.
“Corrections officers should do their job without inflicting pain on people.”
Staff knew Taylor was a suicide risk when he arrived at Wende on Oct. 17, 2016, the suit claims. Prison records show Taylor told staff he’d attempted to hang himself in 2009 and was discharged from the Marines for attempting to hang himself again. He said he’d been sexually abused as a child, which is also linked to suicide.
Taylor was menaced by a corrections officer who denied him food and showers upon his arrival at Wende, according to the suit. The officer, who wasn’t identified in the lawsuit, allegedly smeared Taylor as a snitch to other staff. The suit seeks unspecified damages for medical malpractice, excessive force and wrongful death.
McDay, who works as a nurse, said she and other family provided a vital support network for her son. But their contact was frequently cutoff by Taylor’s stints in solitary. Taylor had several months-long stays in a form of solitary called “keep lock.” The first time he told staff he felt suicidal as a way to be served food, his mother said. Subsequent stays in isolation were punishment for him abusing the dangerous synthetic marijuana K2 and Molly, according to the suit.
“That’s not a recognized treatment for somebody with substance abuse problems: lock them in a cell for three months,” attorney Katie Rosenfeld, who filed the suit, said.
Advocates have called for a ban on solitary confinement at state prisons, saying the practice is torture that elevates the risk of suicide behind bars. The city has banned solitary entirely for inmates 21 and younger. Some 4,000 people are in isolation in state prisons, according to the Halt Solitary Campaign. Fifty New York prisoners died in the past five years due to insufficient medical care, according to a 2018 state medical review board report. At least seven inmates have committed suicide at Wende since 2010.
Prison staff documented Taylor’s descent into depression.
He said he felt “like a burden to his family,” according to the suit. “Feeling depressed and thought about hanging himself” another report noted.
“Having keep lock time, with little to entertain himself, makes it hard,” read another report.
Only two days before his suicide, Taylor said, “What am I doing here?” “I want to kill myself” and “I’ll hang myself” while in the throes of K2, according to the suit.[More New York] Woman beaten with nail-covered wooden plank on Queens street is permanently disfigured, blinded in one eye »
The next day, Sgt. Scott Lambert, Sgt. Timothy Lewalski, Corrections Officer Melvin Maldonado and a Corrections Officer McDonald assaulted Taylor after he had a K2-induced seizure, according to the suit. Inmates called McDay, alerted her that Taylor had been abused by Wende guards and urged her to get more information, she recalled.
Prison records documented Taylor’s injuries as self-inflicted, claiming he banged his head against a wall, the suit states.
McDay said she frantically tried to get information from unhelpful Wende staff. A reverend eventually gave her the awful news that her son had hanged himself with a bedsheet.
“I didn’t know what to do. I was going crazy,” McDay recalled.