Local Lawsuit Over Prison Death

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It was almost a year ago when an inmate at Ionia's Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility died in his cell, a victim of dehydration. Jeffrey Clark had spent 15 years behind bars for committing armed robbery with a liquor bottle as a weapon. He would have been up for his annual parole hearing in November 2002, but he died July 3, 2002.

Guards found Clark lifeless and naked on the floor of his observation cell. Food was scattered on the ground. His body was dehydrated.

"I believe he was without water for five days," says Bonita Clark-Murphy, Clark's sister and the wife of state Rep. Mike Murphy.

Five days before he died, guards put Jeffrey Clark, who dealt with paranoid schizophrenia, into an observation cell. Clark then flooded his area with water, possibly by plugging up his toilet, which led prison officials to shut off his access to water in his cell.

In those days without water, Jeffrey Clark apparently struggled with dehydration. Did he refuse water, or was it denied? Bonita Clark-Murphy wants to know why no one helped her brother.

"No one paid attention," she says. "No on checked on him."

Autopsy reports indicated temperatures in Clark's cell were about 90 degrees when guards found his body.

Prison officials aren't commenting on his death because of the current lawsuit. However a Michigan State Police investigation is underway.

"I'm trying to figure out whether there was any criminal activity involved," says Detective Michael Morey.

Morey says he plans to interview about thirty people, including prison employees and inmates to find out why Jeffrey Clark allegedly refused meals leading up to his death, and why he may have been deprived of water, despite asking for it during a special psychological examination.

"There are indicators it might have been brought on by himself, by the inmate," he says.

He says there are also indicators corrections staff may have been involved in his death. He says investigations are ongoing.

"This is an intentional, deliberate act," says Geoffrey Fieger, Bonita Clark-Murphy's attorney.

He and Bonita say they've filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court that could result in millions of dollars if it holds up in court.