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Family Tries to Free Brain-Dead Inmate

February 5, 2005

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) _ An inmate who was left brain-dead after being shot by a prison guard nearly three weeks ago lay in a hospital bed Friday, guarded around the clock at a cost of more than $1,000 a day in a situation family members and a lawmaker called absurd.

``This sounds like something out of a Stephen King novel,″ said Democratic state Sen. Gloria Romero. ``For us in the Legislature, we’re asking, `Then why are we guarding a dead man?‴

State corrections officials tried to find a way around a department policy that requires guarding hospitalized inmates. They compromised Friday afternoon by unchaining the inmate’s legs, which had been shackled to his bed.

Daniel Provencio, 28, was shot in the head with a supposedly nonlethal foam projectile while he allegedly tried to prevent guards from breaking up a fight between two other inmates.

The state has spent $1,056 a day in overtime guarding Provencio since he was taken Jan. 16 to a Bakersfield hospital, where he lay hooked up to a ventilator.

The Corrections Department continued to pay for Provencio’s medical care because his family, hoping for some miracle, wanted him on life support.

Romero said the issue of whether to discontinue life support is complicated by a rift among family members; the decision may be left to a hospital ethics committee.

The Corrections Department said it was trying to find a way to waive the policy so Provencio could be moved to a nursing home or halfway house. Beyond the policy question, it was unclear who would pick up the tab, spokesman Todd Slosek said.

``He’s in such a critically medicated state that there are very, very few options for him to be released to an outside facility, and we’ve had no takers,″ Slosek said.

To Provencio’s family, the situation is heartbreaking and absurd. Relatives are allowed to visit for only one hour a day, during which they are watched by a guard.

``I don’t know if they think I’m going fit him in my back pocket and take him out, but that ain’t going to happen,″ said the inmate’s mother, Nancy Mendoza. ``For them to keep him shackled and have a guard inside, for a person they consider dead, that’s kind of crazy.″

Corrections officials said that any inmate taken out of prison for treatment must be shackled and guarded to protect the public, hospital employees and guards. The policy is also tied to contracts with hospitals that treat inmates and the powerful prison guards’ union. In order to waive that policy, hospitals and guards would also have to agree, the department said.

The hospital and guards went along with the decision to remove the shackles, the department said.

The state spent $29 million guarding medical patients last year, the department said. The Mercury News of San Jose reported recently that the department spent $81,745 to watch over a heavily sedated prisoner for 58 days and paid $55,305 to guard a paraplegic with a lung infection during a 45-day hospital stay.

Romero, who chairs an investigative committee looking at the troubled prison system, said she was told by corrections officials no other brain-dead men are in the system.

``If there are other dead men or dead-like, we should have a policy in place,″ Romero said. ``It is a bit disturbing to be in a situation where we’re crafting policy.″

Mendoza said her son was sent to prison for violating parole on drug convictions by driving drunk.

``I don’t know if they’re expecting him to walk out of there,″ said his older brother, Johnny Provencio Jr. ``If they believe he’s brain-dead, where is he going to go?″

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