Four former Louisiana correctional officers were recently sentenced to prison for violating the civil rights of an inmate who died in custody due to a pre-existing medical condition.
In March 2014, Nimali Henry, 19, was sent to jail on charges of simple battery, disturbing the peace, and unauthorized entry after getting into an altercation while trying to retrieve her four-month-old daughter from the child’s father. Suffering from thrombocytopenic purpura, or TTP, a rare disorder that causes clots to form in small blood vessels throughout the body, Henry required medication for the life-threatening condition.
Incarcerated at the St. Bernard Parish Prison (SBPP) in Chalmette, Louisiana, Henry repeatedly told the guards about her rare medical condition while requesting her medication. Instead of giving Henry any medical attention, the correctional officers locked her in an isolated cell where she died of a blood clot.
Despite the fact that SBPP Capt. Andre Dominick discussed Henry’s medical needs with Henry and her social worker, Dominick – who was also acting as the medical officer during Henry’s incarceration – failed to provide her medication or any reasonable medical treatment as she deteriorated.
To prevent Henry from making medical complaints, SBPP Cpl. Timothy Williams locked her in a holding cell that was typically reserved for misbehaving inmates. He also told Henry’s fellow inmates to stop requesting help on Henry’s behalf.
Although SBPP Deputy Lisa Vaccarella witnessed Henry fall to the floor of her cell, Vaccarella refused to give her any medical attention and locked her inside the cell. She later falsely told FBI investigators that she had seen Henry walk without any difficulty.
SBPP Deputy Debra Becnel was also caught lying to FBI agents investigating Henry’s death. Becnel later admitted she falsely told FBI agents that neither Henry nor the inmates talked to her about Henry’s medical needs, when, in fact, Henry and other inmates had told Becnel and other correctional officers that Henry was ill, needed medical treatment, and might die if she did not get her medical treatment.
In December 2015, Captain Andre Dominick, Corporal Timothy Williams, Deputy Debra Becnel, and Deputy Lisa Vaccarella were indicted for willfully failing to provide Henry with necessary medical attention and making false statements to the FBI. In 2018, Dominick attempted to commit suicide by shooting himself in the torso after his fellow colleagues began testifying against him during the trial.
After pleading guilty to violating Henry’s civil rights under color of law, Dominick was sentenced Thursday to five years in federal prison. Williams, who also pled guilty to violating Henry’s civil rights under color of law, was sentenced Thursday to 57 months in federal prison.
“Captain Andre Dominick and Corporal Timothy Williams were responsible for the welfare of inmates at the St. Bernard Parish Prison.” said Special Agent in Charge Bryan Vorndran for the FBI New Orleans Field Office. “Correctional officers have a sworn duty to ensure that inmates are protected, rather than abused or neglected. Their actions are a disgrace to all correctional officers who serve ethically and continue to maintain high moral standards throughout our correctional facilities. Because of the choices each defendant made, Nimali Henry failed to get the care and attention that she needed to address her known medical conditions, ultimately resulting in her death.”
After pleading guilty to their attempts to cover up the civil rights violations against Henry, Vaccarella and Becnel were sentenced Wednesday to federal prison. Vaccarella was sentenced to 21 months in prison with three years of supervised release, while Becnel received six months in prison with three months to be served in custody followed by three months of home detention and three years of supervised release.
“Nimali Henry’s death was not the result of neglect or a lapse of judgment. Her death was the slow, painful, and completely preventable result of the deliberate choices made by these defendants, each of whom knew that he had the constitutional duty to provide necessary medical care for a young woman who was completely dependent on them for help while she was in their custody,” stated Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Pamela Karlan for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Prosecuting corrections officers who intentionally violate their constitutional responsibilities is a critical part of the Department’s mission.”
“The protection of all of our citizens’ civil rights is an essential part of our Constitution,” said U.S. Attorney Duane Evans for the Eastern District of Louisiana in a press release. “Violation of these entitlements, especially in this case by the correctional officers sworn to protect the rights of inmates, erodes public confidence in our correctional system. The public must be able to trust that correctional officers are fulfilling their duties honestly and are truthful during the course of federal investigations or face the consequences of their actions.”