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Lawsuit requests access to records about inmate’s death

February 21, 2018

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — The Disability Rights Center in New Hampshire has sued state corrections officials to get access to records regarding the December death of a state prison inmate with mental illness, saying it has grounds to suspect abuse or neglect.

The Corrections Department said last year that Phillip Borcuk, 34, who was in the prison’s residential treatment unit in his own cell, died Dec. 6 after he was heard “engaging in self-injurious behavior.” Corrections officers and medical responders tried, unsuccessfully, to save him. The department said an autopsy was done and that the state medical examiner was awaiting toxicology results.

The center, a federally mandated protection and advocacy agency, sued Corrections Commissioner Helen Hanks and state prison Warden Michael Zenk in federal court Tuesday, seeking access to Borcuk’s records. It had asked for them several times during the last two months.

“Without prompt access to records, we cannot assess whether individuals’ rights are being respected, nor can we fulfill our federally mandated role to protect and advocate for people with mental illness,” center attorney Andrew Milne said.

The lawsuit includes correspondence from the state attorney general’s office that says its investigation isn’t complete and that the center doesn’t have probable cause to investigate the death.

“While certainly any unanticipated death is concerning, that does not, though, equate to abuse or neglect,” Senior Assistant Attorney General Lynmarie Cusack said in a Jan. 9 letter.

A message seeking comment was left for Cusack on Wednesday. A Corrections Department spokesman said the agency doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

The Corrections Department said Borcuk was admitted in 2012, and charges against him included driving offenses, theft and assault. He would have been eligible for parole in December 2018, with a release date no later than Dec. 5, 2019.

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