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Woman ‘Brutally’ Beaten in Mississippi Prison Died Because Officials Failed To Give Her Medical Care, Lawsuit Alleges

The father of Nicole Rathmann says his daughter was “not made safe by employees” while incarcerated at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility. She was one of 16 prisoners to die in state custody in August 2018.

Nicole Rathmann in a photo provided by her family.Kent Rathmann

Mississippi prison officials allowed an incarcerated woman to be severely beaten and then failed to provide her with medical help, actions that ultimately led to her death, alleges a federal lawsuit filed last week on behalf of her father. In the complaint, Kent Rathmann says that his daughter, Nicole Rathmann, was “not made safe by employees” while incarcerated at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility. Rathmann, 33, was one of 16 prisoners to die in state custody in August 2018.

Carlos Moore, an attorney representing Kent Rathmann, told The Appeal that the lawsuit contains previously unknown details about how Rathmann died, gathered from interviews with prisoners. Shortly after Rathmann’s death, her mother, Rita Korsen, told Mississippi Today that it was due to an aneurysm, but the cause of the aneurysm was not known. According to the news outlet, the Mississippi Department of Corrections listed Rathmann’s cause of death as “natural.” 

The lawsuit, filed on Jan. 16, alleges that another prisoner “brutally struck” Rathmann in the head multiple times with a sock filled with locks and bars of soap as she lay in her bunk. Prison staff did not intervene and Rathmann was found in her cell “unresponsive in a seizure-like position,” according to the complaint. She was then taken to the hospital, where doctors determined she had suffered a “massive” stroke and had bleeding in her brain. She died on Aug. 23, 2018, as a result of her head injuries, the filing says. 

“During the course of this unconstitutional assault, not one single jail guard or official attempted to stop the attack, intercede to prevent further abuse or offer medical assistance to Ms. Rathmann after she was obviously seriously injured or dead,” reads the lawsuit. 

A state DOC spokesperson declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.

Kent Rathmann alleges that this wasn’t the first time his daughter had been attacked by a fellow prisoner, citing another incident in which an incarcerated woman hit her in the head with a phone. Prison employees also did not stop that attack or offer her immediate medical help “despite knowing about the horrible, obvious and life threatening injuries she received,” according to the complaint. 

Rathmann had served six years of a 10-year prison sentence for selling methamphetamine. She was due to be released on parole five days after her death, according to Moore. 

Neither the assault nor Rathmann’s condition were documented in an incident report provided to The Appeal by the state DOC last year. According to the report, a prisoner alerted a guard on Aug. 21, 2018, that Rathmann was “looking pale and not feeling well.” The guard requested that officers go check on her and upon seeing Rathmann, an officer radioed to the captain “several times” but got no answer. She was then taken to the medical building, says the report. 

Kent Rathmann is requesting that the state award him at least $3 million in compensation for what he says is the violation of his daughter’s constitutional rights that caused her untimely death. 

“Unfortunately it’s too late for Ms. Rathmann, to bring her back, but her family would like to see justice and MDOC be held accountable for the inactions that led to her death,” Moore said. “They would like to see systemic changes, and of course they would like to be compensated for their pain and suffering.” 

The lawsuit is the first to be filed on behalf of any prisoners who died in August 2018. At the time, then-Commissioner Pelicia Hall released a statement that the number of deaths was not “out of line” with deaths in previous months and the majority were believed to be from natural causes. 

The sister of Willie Hollinghead, who died at the South Mississippi Correctional Institution on Aug. 4, 2018, told The Appeal last year that her family has received few answers about his final moments. His death has been ruled a homicide. 

Deaths in state custody have climbed nearly 40 percent in recent years, from 62 in fiscal year 2014 to 85 in fiscal year 2018 and 78 in fiscal year 2019. At least eight people have died this month in the wake of violence and unrest across Mississippi prisons. 

Advocates have called for the state to reduce its prison population, increase staffing, and improve conditions at the facilities. Today, the rappers Jay-Z and Yo Gotti are scheduled to host a rally in support of prison reform in Jackson. Earlier this month, they filed a lawsuit on behalf of Mississippi prisoners.

On Tuesday, Governor Tate Reeves, who took office this month, tweeted in response to the crisis: “We have been working around the clock with MDOC and DPS [Department of Public Safety] to respond immediately and prevent this going forward. There is much more to be done here. We have asked them to provide as much information to the public as possible as quickly as possible. Transparency is the first step.”