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The Herkimer Telegram
By JESSICA ARSENAULT-Telegram Staff Writer
Published: Thursday, December 28, 2006 11:35 AM CST
HERKIMER – As state police continue their investigation into how an inmate at the Herkimer County Correctional Facility died of a prescription drug overdose in June, the former inmates’ brother seeks to hold the county and members of the sheriff’s department responsible.
Michael DiCamillo passed away at the correctional facility June 30 while awaiting a court date to answer misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. After an autopsy revealed the cause of death to be cardiac arrhythmia, Medical Examiner Michael Sikarica completed a toxicology report which showed DiCamillo had very high levels of the antidepressants venlafaxine, better known as Effexor, and nortriptyline, along with a smaller amount of morphine, which caused the arrhythmia.
DiCamillo’s brother, Matthew Gabriel, demands an explanation for his brother’s apparent overdose.
“Before he went in there he was fine, everything was good,” Gabriel said. “Somewhere along the line something went wrong. I just want to know why nothing was done. They must have seen him helpless and they let it happen. They let him die.”
Gabriel’s attorney, Elmer Robert Keach III, working out of Amsterdam, said he at least has a negligence case if not a constitutional violation case, which is what he plans to litigate the case as, claiming DiCamillo was denied his constitutional right to adequate medical treatment. Keach also plans to bring wrongful death claims under state law.
“Days before he died, Mr. DiCamillo was drooling and listless, he even fell flat on his face,” Keach said. “It was obvious to anyone that there was something wrong with the guy but they did nothing.”
Keach said that on the night DiCamillo died, one corrections officer on duty did contact the facility nurse who told him to keep an eye on DiCamillo. Two hours later, Keach said, DiCamillo was dead.
“This man’s death was completely preventable,” he said. “Even a basic amount of caring by the people on duty could have saved his life.”
In addition, Keach is questioning who distributes medications at the jail.
According to the New York State Commission of Correction, corrections officers are allowed and often do distribute medication, strictly following prescription dosing and keeping a detailed record of all medications dispensed to inmates, said Donald Nadler, deputy director of operations.
State Police Bureau of Investigation Investigator Reece Treen said he believes both a registered nurse and corrections officers distribute medication at the Herkimer County facility, though he would not give details about who gave prescriptions to DiCamillo the day he died.
Herkimer County Sheriff Chris Farber would not comment on that aspect of the matter either, other than to say the facility does employ one full-time and one part-time registered nurse. Farber also said that as far as he knows, there was no wrong doing of any kind on the part of corrections officers that night.
“To me, right now, it’s all speculation,” he said. “We’re upset that we lost an inmate and we most certainly are doing everything we can to figure out why it happened and to ensure that it does not happen again.”
“From everything I’ve see in the records at the facility, he was given the amount he was prescribed on all his medications,” Treen agreed.
Yet the toxicology report shows lethal levels of both venlafaxine and nortriptyline in DiCamillo’s system.
The sheriff’s department has been aware for some months that Keach intends to bring a suit against the department and county, Farber said, adding that he had no comment about that fact.
The state commission is also looking into the incident, Nadler said, as the commission looks into all inmate deaths across the state.
“We look at the entire circumstances at the time of death, the autopsy and toxicology report and the state police report,” he said. “Right now we’re conducting a preliminary investigation.”
In the meantime Gabriel is doing what he can to cope with the loss of his brother.
“Basically I’m taking one day at a time,” he said. “I lived with him so it’s a very hard loss to deal with. I just want some answers.”
Keach seems determined to get Gabriel those answers.
“The sheriff of Herkimer County can mark my words,” said Keach. “I am going to blow the lid off this case. He is not going to be able to sugar coat or sweep this under the rug.”
DiCamillo was a well known facet of the area, affectionately nicknamed “Bling” for the dozen or so rings and the large gold cross he often wore.
He was a graduate of St. Johnsville High School’s class of 1986, and a graduate of Herkimer County Community College, from which he graduated second in his class in 1999. DiCamillo was one course away from completing his education at SUNYIT as well.
He was 38 when he passed away.