Relatives of inmates who died in Waupun prison shocked charges aren't being filed in their cases

Relatives of two inmates who died in the aging maximum security Waupun Correctional Institution say they're stunned that prosecutors haven't filed charges in their cases after bringing multiple counts against the warden and other employees in connection with the deaths of two other prisoners.

Associated Press

June 7, 2024 • Southeast Region

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Multiple cars are parked in roadside parking spaces next to a masonry wall with numerous arches enclosed with a metal fence, which stands in front of a masonry structure topped by crenelated towers to one side and a tower with a peaked roof in the distance, along with a flagpole with the U.S. and Wisconsin flags and a tall light pole.

The Waupun Correctional Institution is seen on June 5, 2024, in Waupun. Relatives of Dean Hoffmann and Tyshun Lemons, who each died at the prison in 2023, say they're shocked prosecutors haven't filed charges in those cases after bringing multiple counts against prison employees in connection with two other deaths of inmates. (AP Photo / Morry Gash, File)

AP News

By Todd Richmond, AP

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Relatives of two inmates who died in an aging maximum security prison in Wisconsin say they’re stunned prosecutors haven’t filed charges in those cases after bringing multiple counts against the warden and other prison employees in connection with two other prisoners’ deaths.

Four inmates have died at Waupun Correctional Institution over the past year. Authorities on June 5 announced misconduct and abuse charges against Warden Randall Hepp and eight of his staff members in the deaths of two prisoners, Cameron Williams and Donald Maier. The charges have reignited debate over prisoner abuse, chronic guard shortages across the state prison system and whether the state needs to replace Waupun and another prison in Green Bay. Both facilities were built in the 1800s.

Dodge County District Attorney Andrea Will opted not to charge anyone in the deaths of Dean Hoffmann, who killed himself in solitary confinement in June 2023, and Tyshun Lemons, who died of a fentanyl overdose in October.

“I’m outraged,” Lemons’ sister, Iema Lemons, said. “I was even more upset yesterday. With a lot of prayer I’m feeling a little bit better today.”

Hoffmann’s daughter, Megan Kolb, said she was “ecstatic” when she heard authorities were planning to file charges in connection with Waupun inmates’ deaths.

She had “major anxiety” on the morning of June 5 before watching Dodge County Sheriff Dale Schmidt’s afternoon news conference. She said she screamed when they announced the charges in connection with Williams and Maier’s deaths — “there was finally some accountability,” she said — but was disappointed when they said no one would be charged in her father’s death. She said no one cared that he was suffering from mental illness and no one helped him.

“Mental health care isn’t looked at the same way as physical care,” Kolb said. “No one in their right frame of mind would do that. So yes, I’m disappointed.”

State Department of Corrections officials didn’t immediately return messages on June 7. Hepp’s attorney, Robert Webb, said his office was evaluating the allegations and declined further comment.

According to criminal complaints, Williams died of a stroke on Oct. 29 but no one found his body until late the next morning, at least 12 hours later. The nurse, sergeant and lieutenant charged in his death allegedly never checked on him that night.

Maier died Feb. 22 of dehydration and malnutrition, according to the complaints. He had severe mental health problems but either refused or wasn’t given his medication in the eight days leading up to his death. Guards told investigators that he flooded his cell so they turned off his water. Prosecutors also alleged that Maier wasn’t fed for four days leading up to his death. Hepp was charged with felony misconduct in public office in connection with that death.

Separately, Schmidt said during his news conference that Hoffman didn’t receive any medication in the three days leading up his death, but investigators couldn’t determine if staffers didn’t give him any or if he refused to take it.

Documentation of Hoffmann’s medication distribution was “vastly inaccurate,” Schmidt said. Staffers committed policy violations, he said, but none of the violations rose to a criminal level, the sheriff said.

There were no concerns of staff misconduct in Lemons’ death, Schmidt said, at the same time adding that investigators are worried about widespread contraband smuggling at the prison. Waupun has been under a lockdown since March 2023 due to guard shortages.

Schmidt’s investigation into the deaths is now closed, but an internal state Department of Corrections probe continues. The U.S. Department of Justice also is looking into allegations of prison employees smuggling contraband into the facility.

It’s been almost a year since Hoffmann died, but Kolb said she’s still angry. She filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit in February alleging that Waupun staff, including Hepp, failed to provide her father with adequate mental health care and medications.

“If you’re not going to do your job and you’re going to torture and neglect the people in their care, that’s just as bad as the crimes people are doing to get in there,” she said. “I don’t know why they think they’re the judge and jury and can determine how these people live their lives.”

Lemons’ sister filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit on June 6, a day after charges in Maier and Williams’ deaths were announced, alleging the state Department of Corrections failed to prevent illegal drugs from entering Waupun.

“They’re not caring for people there. They’re treating them with no decency. It’s just disgusting,” she said. “I think they need to rip it down. They need to start over with new leadership. They need to take out the whole garbage can.”

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