The family of a North Carolina prison inmate found dead in his cell last week is conducting an independent investigation, saying medical negligence may have contributed to his death.
A medical examiner has ruled Robert “R.J.” Daidone’s July 5 death at Maury Correctional Institution a suicide.
In the days before he died, Daidone had apparently developed a serious infection after being bitten by a spider, his mother said. But, she said, he was never seen by a doctor or given antibiotics.
Daidone, 28, who was serving time for second-degree murder, suffered from bipolar depression and psychotic episodes, his mother said. Officials at the Eastern North Carolina prison, she said, were not providing him medication for psychosis.
I don’t want any other mother in the universe to go through this.
Adele Daidone, mother of an inmate whose July 5 death was ruled a suicide
Prison officials say Daidone’s body was found on the floor of his cell, with torn sheets wrapped around his neck.
His death was the fifth reported suicide in state prisons so far this year. That’s up from three in 2015. The recent suicides have spurred investigations and heightened concerns of inmate advocates.
Dr. M.G.F. Gilliland, the medical examiner who autopsied Daidone’s body, told the Observer he died from asphyxia. Mental illness was a contributing factor in his death, she said.
Heather Rattelade, a Durham lawyer who is representing the family, said she is consulting with medical experts, conducting interviews and requesting prison records to piece together what happened.
“Even if that independent investigation reveals evidence that is consistent with suicide, however, Maury Correctional officials are not absolved of culpability in R.J.’s untimely death, as his extreme suffering may have played a role in self-euthanasia,” she said.
Rattelade said she wants to learn whether there’s evidence to justify a lawsuit. Beyond that, she said, the family wants to improve prison policies to avert similar tragedies.
We want to address any policies and procedures … to make sure this doesn’t happen to another inmate.
Heather Rattelade, a lawyer who is helping the family learn what happened to Robert Daidone
Prison spokesman Keith Acree said medical staff “were aware of an issue with Daidone’s hand and were treating that before he died.” But Acree said he can’t comment further about Daidone’s medical or mental health treatment because of confidentiality rules.
Since April, Daidone had been housed in “intensive control,” a form of solitary confinement. He’d been placed there due to multiple “barter/trade/loan infractions” committed inside the prison, 80 miles southeast of Raleigh, Acree said.
Studies have shown that solitary confinement can worsen mental illness.
Before disciplining mentally ill inmates for infractions, state prison officials consider “whether a behavior is the result of the mental illness or a willful, conscious violation of prison rules,” Acree said.
Last month, the prison system unveiled a new policy to prevent suicides. That plan, which becomes effective Sept. 1, discourages prisons from placing mentally ill inmates in solitary confinement. If prison officials find they must isolate such inmates, they should do so for no more than 30 days a year, the policy states.
A mother’s anguish
Adele Daidone said her son was a gifted musician who loved playing the blues and classic rock on his electric guitar. He was protective of his younger sister, his mother said, and had cared for the gravesite where his father was buried after committing suicide in prison more than 20 years ago.
But drugs repeatedly got Daidone into trouble, his mother said. In 2007, he was convicted of drug possession. At a Raleigh home in 2011, he killed Alison Ballan Jurica, 34, the mother of 13-year-old twin boys. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Adele Daidone said she visited her son June 29 – six days before his death – and found him in good health and good spirits. She said notes in her son’s medical file show what happened next:
On June 30, her son requested medical attention for a spider bite. It was two days until a nurse saw him. She observed a half-dollar-sized wound on Daidone’s hand. Yellow pus and blood were draining from the red-ringed wound, according to the medical notes that Adele Daidone says were read to her.
Adele Daidone, a Morrisville resident who once worked as a research associate at the Duke Clinical Research Institute, said she later spoke with a prison nurse, who told her that her son might have been bitten by a brown recluse spider. The venom from the brown recluse can result in tissue and organ damage, and, in extreme cases, death.
Gilliland, the medical examiner, confirmed that Daidone had an infected wound on his right hand that resembled a spider bite. She said the prison records she received don’t show that he was given antibiotics.
The prison nurse who saw Daidone on July 2 recommended that a physician assistant examine the wound, but that never happened, Adele Daidone said.
The inmate’s mother got her first indication that something was wrong on July 4. Daidone’s grandmother told her about a call she’d gotten from another inmate: Daidone had been bitten, his hand was badly swollen and he was in excruciating pain and severe emotional distress, his grandmother said.
Adele Daidone said she called the prison repeatedly that day, trying to get help for her son. She said a nurse told her that he had not been seen by a doctor or physician assistant because it was a holiday weekend, she said.
Daidone’s mother said a prison nurse called her July 5, at about 5:15 a.m., to tell her she was about to give her son antibiotics.
But less than six hours later, Adele Daidone got another call, this one from Dennis Daniels, the prison’s superintendent. He asked if she was sitting down. Then, she said, he delivered the devastating news: “I’m sorry to inform you your son has committed suicide.”
Adele Daidone said she screamed and threw the phone across the room.
“I don’t want any other mother in the universe to go through this,” she said.