Delaware Public Media

ACLU sues for details on Delaware inmate's 2014 death

Jul 1, 2015

The ACLU is suing the Delaware Department of Corrections for details on how a man died at a Smyrna-area jail shortly after being detained last year.

Jason Cunningham, a 26-year-old African-American Dover resident, was detained in April 2014 at Vaughn Correctional Center. He'd failed to post bail on charges including attempted motor vehicle theft and resisting arrest.

 

The ACLU's suit alleges that Cunningham was in good health when he was placed in a "four-point restraint" and left unmonitored in a cell. He was found dead there later that day.

Kathleen Macrae is the state ACLU's executive director. She says Cunningham's mother, Natalie Way, is the plaintiff in their suit.

"She is suing the Department of Corrections for more information -- for information, for any information -- about the conditions under which her son was held ... and the circumstances surrounding his death," Macrae says.

Police opened a routine investigation, but told media outlets at the time that they didn't immediately suspect foul play. Macrae says no final cause of death was ever released to Cunningham's family.

"[Way] and other members of the family have been talking to officials at the Department of Corrections for over a year trying to get more information about what happened to her son Jason," Macrae says. "And she was unable to receive information from the department, so she came to us."

In a statement, Corrections spokesman Jason Miller says "state law prohibits the release of institutional records other than medical records without a court order or a subpoena."

He adds that they weren't originally able to release medical records without a HIPPA release signed by the administrator of Cunningham's estate. Natalie Way has since become that administrator.

Miller says the state "looks forward to working with the ACLU to provide Mr. Cunningham's family with the information they seek, which we hope will help them obtain closure,"

Read full suit here.