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Prison staff charged with felonies following 2019 inmate death

Silhouette of concertina barbed wire on a prison fence.
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Silhouette of concertina barbed wire on a prison fence.

Eight current and former state prison employees face felony charges related to the death in 2019 of an inmate at an Upper Peninsula corrections facility.

The complaints allege that prison staff at the Alger Correctional Facility failed to take actions that could have saved Jonathan Lancaster as he remained restrained in an observation cell. The charges say Lancaster lost 50 pounds over 15 days without receiving emergency medical attention.

In a statement released by her office, Nessel called the event “a preventable tragedy.”

“These are serious, and numerous, charges that reflect the broad culpability the defendants shoulder in the death of Jonathan Lancaster,” she said. “The eight defendants had a responsibility for the care and well-being of those in their custody, and my office will continue to rigorously pursue accountability when that is not met.”

Four nurses, the acting warden at the time and an assistant deputy warden at the time have all been charged with involuntary manslaughter. They would face up to 15 years in prison if convicted. Two other corrections officers have been charged with misconduct in office, a five-year felony.

Former Acting Warden Scott Sprader, former Assistant Deputy Warden Benny Mercier and Registered Nurses Paula Zelenak, Nathan Moser, Barbara Bedient and John Crane have each been charged with one count of involuntary manslaughter.

Former Corrections Sergeant Jason Denman and former Corrections Officer Shawn Brinkman are charged with misconduct in office.

Lancaster’s family has also filed a federal lawsuit that says his mental health needs were ignored until he was found dead and strapped in a restraining chair.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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