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Court Rules to Force Feed Dying Inmate on Hunger Strike

Fri, 01/22/2016 - 12:20pm
Seth Augenstein, Digital Reporter

William Lecuyer staged a year-long hunger strike in 2012, in protest of his punishment for failing to give a routine urine sample. He said he dropped from 230 pounds to under 120 pounds over the course of the year. The picture of Lecuyer on the right is from 2013 (file photo); the picture on the left is currently on file with the NJDOC.A New Jersey prison inmate now on his second hunger strike to protest prison conditions will be force fed, due to his impending death, according to a court decision.

William Lecuyer, 37, has not eaten since July and is on the verge of death, according to the court papers filed by the New Jersey Attorney General’s office.

“W.L.’s death could be imminent, and the NJ DOC seeks an order to allow medical staff to cause W.L. to receive emergency medical treatment via intravenous hydration and a naso-gastric tube as required,” the state argued in a Jan. 15 filing.

The judge ruled in favor of the prison system at a Thursday hearing in Essex County court, Lecuyer told Forensic Magazine in exclusive interviews.

Lecuyer, who is down more than 100 pounds, said he will still not comply.

“So I will be strapped down and forced,” he told Forensic Magazine in an email. “We have a return date in about 30 days.”

Lee Moore, spokesman for the New Jersey Attorney General, confirmed that the temporary relief allowing the state to force-feed Lecuyer was granted by a judge. A permanent injunction will be discussed at a March 9 hearing, he added. However, the AG's office had no further comment on the decision, Moore added.

The dispute between the inmate and his jailors, including two long-term hunger strikes, goes back five years.

The prisoner was originally punished and put in solitary confinement because he was accused of not submitting to a drug test in 2011. Lecuyer claimed he had waited two hours to give a urine sample, but couldn’t wait any longer. (The rule is to collect the urine within two hours of the initial notice from officials). When the guard returned, the prisoner asked for more time to comply. But he was not given that opportunity, found guilty, and put into solitary confinement, he said.

Lecuyer stopped eating, in protest. A former high-school football lineman, the prisoner dropped from 230 pounds to under 120 pounds over the course of the hunger strike. He was occasionally given nutrition at a local hospital, and had milk in his coffee. But he continued to waste away. Over the course of the protest, he won a court battle to continue starving himself. (That court battle was in a different legal jurisdiction than the latest one).

Eventually he was promised a new hearing – and he was cleared on the charge of failing to give a urine sample in July 2013. He went back to eating, although he has been dogged by poor health from the effects of deprivation ever since.

Two years passed. Most of it was spent in medical isolation. He was moved from New Jersey State Prison in Trenton, to Northern State Prison in Newark.

Lecuyer has told Forensic Magazine he is protesting that the prison guard and other corrections officials were never punished, despite his being vindicated on the main urine-collection charge. He is also seeking to stay in a single-person cell, since the years of being in solitary have made him unable to deal with other people appropriately, he has said.

The prison system, however, disputes that Lecuyer has principles behind his protest. They contend they need to keep Lecuyer alive to maintain order in the prison, they added.

“While New Jersey courts have not determined whether an inmate has a right to commit suicide by starvation, many other jurisdictions have determined that a Department of Corrections’ interest in saving an inmate’s life and maintaining a safe facility outweigh a competent inmate’s right to privacy,” they wrote in the court filing.

READ MORE: After Losing 110 lbs., N.J. Inmate Goes on Hunger Strike Again, Sues Prison

“The state’s interest in saving W.L. and maintaining a safe facility far outweigh W.L.’s attempt to manipulate the system to change his housing to a one-person cell,” the A.G.’s office wrote. “W.L. is not starving himself to make a political statement or exercise a religious belief. Rather, he refuses to eat or drink to send a message to the NJ DOC that he is not satisfied that he has to share a cell.”

Lecuyer has spent nearly half his life in prison. He was arrested after robbing a gas station in 1998 with an unloaded handgun. He pleaded guilty in 2000 to that and four other robberies, including a dry cleaner and a laundromat. He was sentenced to 22 years; he is scheduled for release in 2017.

The robberies fed a heroin habit which began with a bad car-accident and a painkiller addiction, family members said. Lecuyer has told reporters he deserves his time behind bars.

Lecuyer is also suing the New Jersey prisons in federal court. His pro-se civil rights lawsuit, much of it handwritten, was filed in July. He accuses five prison officials – including the corrections officer who initially charged him, and the warden of New Jersey State Prison – of infringing his rights, including accusations of giving false statements and refusing to hand over evidence for his appeal.

Lecuyer is asking for three of them to be punished, for new due-process rights for inmates, and for restitution of $250,000.

“To this point the people involved have not been held accountable,” Lecuyer writes in the suit.

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