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8 Mich. prison workers charged in death of mentally ill inmate

Two prison officials and four nurses were charged with involuntary manslaughter following a state police investigation; Two COs face charges of misconduct


Jonathan Lancaster died at the Alger prison in the Upper Peninsula.

Michigan Department of Corrections

By Ed White
Associated Press

ALGER, Mich. — Eight people were charged Tuesday in the death of a Michigan prison inmate who lost 50 pounds over two weeks and died of dehydration while being restrained in 2019.

The death of Jonathan Lancaster at the Alger prison in the Upper Peninsula was a “preventable tragedy that played out over days,” Attorney General Dana Nessel said.

Two prison officials at the time, Scott Sprader and Benny Mercier, and four nurses were charged with involuntary manslaughter, following an investigation by state police. Two prison officers face charges of misconduct.

Lancaster, 38, was in prison for robbery and gun crimes in the Detroit area. He had a history of mental illness and showed symptoms while at Alger, including paranoia, anxiety, loss of appetite and insomnia, according to a wrongful-death lawsuit filed by his sister.

Lancaster was in restraints in a special cell when he died.

He “received no emergency medical attention until after his death,” despite excessive weight loss and the prison’s knowledge that he was deteriorating, the attorney general’s office said.

Lancaster’s family reached a $2.6 million settlement in 2021 after suing prison health staff and private contractors.

Hannah Fielstra, an attorney who represented the family, welcomed the criminal charges.

“The official cause of death was severe dehydration,” Fielstra told The Associated Press. “I do believe these state actors need to be held accountable. He continually asked for medical treatment. We had alleged that prison officials ignored these requests and portrayed him as manipulative and attention-seeking.”

It was not immediately known whether Sprader or Mercier had attorneys who could comment on the charges. They no longer work for the state.

Six people were fired and several more were disciplined after Lancaster’s death, the state Corrections Department said.

“The department also referred the matter to Michigan State Police for their review and cooperated with the subsequent criminal investigation,” spokesman Kyle Kaminski said.

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