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Court rules force-fed inmate's case moot

September 02, 1999|By BRENDAN KIRBY

An order allowing the Roxbury Correctional Institution to force-feed an inmate who refused to eat has been declared moot by a state appeals court.

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals ruled on Wednesday that the order was moot because Warren R. Stevenson's "hunger strike" did not jeopardize his life.

Stevenson, a convicted burglar serving a 25-year sentence, had staged a hunger strike beginning in January 1994 to protest his prosecution by the Baltimore County State's Attorney's Office.

While an inmate at the House of Correction Annex in Jessup, Md., prison officials allowed Stevenson to consume extra milk, juice, coffee and other liquids, which kept him alive.

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Officials at Roxbury, where he was transferred in March 1997, refused him the extra liquids and his weight began to drop. After he collapsed in December of that year, the Maryland Division of Correction obtained an injunction from Washington County Circuit Judge Frederick C. Wright III to put a feeding tube down his esophagus.

Because the procedure was painful, Stevenson supplemented his diet with hot chocolate and other liquids he bought from the prison commissary.

By the time of the hearing to decide whether a permanent force-feed order should be imposed, Stevenson's weight had risen from 112 pounds to 141 pounds.

Wright made the order permanent, rejecting attorney Joseph D. Tetrault's motion to dismiss the case.

But the Court of Special Appeals ruled the case should have been dismissed.

"For all intents and purposes, the circumstances existing on Feb. 18, 1998, were no different than they had been for the first three years of his hunger strike at Jessup," Judge Deborah S. Byrnes wrote for the majority.

Judge Andrew L. Sonner dissented, saying Stevenson could change his eating habits at any time.

"There is nothing in the record to indicate that he has abandoned using a hunger strike as his means for protesting whatever bothers him about the State's Attorney's Office for Baltimore County," he wrote.

The decision means that the Division of Correction would have to seek another court order if Stevenson's health deteriorated because of a lack of eating.

Stephen Z. Meehan, principal counsel of the Prisoner Rights Information System of Maryland, which represented Stevenson, said the ruling leaves the determination at the discretion of the trial judge.

Stevenson said in a recent letter to The Herald-Mail that he remains serious about his hunger strike.

"One way or the other I do not look to be alive by Jan. 1, 2000," he wrote.

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