Six weeks after Luzerne County Council approved a $3 million settlement to end litigation with the estate of deceased county inmate Shaheen Mackey, a Wilkes-Barre man has posted an in-prison video on social media showing what happened before Mackey was taken to the hospital.
Nieem Johnson posted the video on his Facebook page. According to his social media account, Johnson is engaged to Rasheda Hammonds, who is administrator of the Mackey estate, which filed the suit against the county and others.
A 41-year-old Berwick resident, Mackey died in June 2018 at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital, two days after he was transported from the county prison in Wilkes-Barre. He had been incarcerated about five hours on a warrant related to a protection-from-abuse petition, officials have said.
The family’s suit against the county, numerous prison employees and the prison inmate health care provider was still in the discovery stage in federal court when the settlement was proposed, attorneys said.
According to prior published reports, the suit asserts Mackey was epileptic and suffering from a seizure when he wandered, disoriented, into the wrong cell during a prison lockdown. The prison did not properly document his medical issues, it said.
Mackey allegedly began acting delusional, which prompted correctional officers to restrain him, use stun guns on him, shackle him and administer Narcan, though later blood tests allegedly revealed Mackey was on no drugs at the time of his death, reports said.
The 23-minute video starts at the time Mackey was in a restraint chair surrounded by corrections officers.
With Mackey’s face covered by a spit mask, an officer stood behind him with a gloved hand on Mackey’s shoulders while a nurse was strapping on what was later identified as a blood pressure monitor.
A series of comments and questions were directed to Mackey:
“Sir, what did you take?”
“Stop moving your legs. Stop resisting.”
“We’re trying to help you, that’s all.”
“Most important thing is we’re here to help you, not fight with you.”
“Relax. What did you take?”
Mackey moaned as two officers held down his legs. He was already handcuffed in the chair, and the officers surrounding him spent much of the time in the video attempting to carry out a plan to get his arms on to the chair armrest so they could be strapped in.
Mackey continued to repeatedly make noises through the spit mask, and at one point it sounded like he was whimpering.
An officer kept advising the others to be careful because Mackey had long nails “like you wouldn’t believe.”
“Stop resisting,” an officer kept yelling.
One said he was strong.
“I don’t know what he’s on,” one said.
“Probably meth,” another said.
At this point there were eight officers surrounding Mackey, blocking the view. The sounds of a Taser could be heard.
“Make sure he can breathe,” one said.
No more sounds came from Mackey.
An officer said his left arm was secured, and a glimpse of Mackey showed he was not moving anymore.
An officer tapped his head.
“This man is on something,” one said.
“He’s in and out,” said another.
“He’s on meth or heroin. Something needs to be done,” one said.
Two female medical workers attended to Mackey as an officer put the back of his hand on Mackey’s stomach to feel for movement.
“Where’s that Narc?” an officer asked, referring to the opioid overdose antidote Narcan.
There was some frenzied discussion between the nurses and others an announcement to call the ambulance.
CPR was administered repeatedly. His mask was removed, and the officers removed him from the chair as the attempts to revive him continued.
During an appearance before members of the media on Wednesday outside of the Dyller Law Firm in Wilkes-Barre, members of Mackey’s family say sharing the video is part of the continuing effort to obtain justice for him.
Two of Mackey’s eight children, daughter Tatiyanee Mackey and son Shaheen Mackey Jr., were joined by niece Chareina Blanding. The family that more needs to be done to prevent similar issues in the prison.
“He was still a person,” Mackey’s daughter said, voice trembling with an obvious mixture of sadness and anger. “People need to realize that it’s not OK to take someone away from their family.”
Tatiyanee Mackey said that the video clearly displays failures on the behalf of the prison staff that she said contributed directly to his death.
“How do you give someone CPR in a chair?” she asked. “Anyone who knows anything about CPR, you gotta lay them down flat, tilt their head. Did anyone see that?
“They did that after his body was limp in a chair; he was already gone,” she went on. “They didn’t try.”
The young woman’s voice was incredulous as she asked, “An accident? Natural causes? Natural causes? I mean, come on. That’s no natural cause. They let him sit in that chair as he took his last breath. That’s sick.”
While the family did acknowledge the sizable payout approved by the settlement, they said that the money would never bring Mackey back or end the suffering that his absence has caused — or the suffering Mackey experienced.
“Imagine being him; imagine being in that chair; imagine feeling how he felt,” Mackey’s daughter went on. “Imagine being his child, and you gotta see this.”
Mackey’s niece, Blanding, echoed her cousin’s statements.
“It’s not fair that the siblings, the younger siblings, are not even gonna get to meet him; it’s not fair,” she said. “And he’s not here anymore, and that’s it; but it’s not over, it’s definitely not over.”
“It’s not over at all,” Mackey’s daughter said in agreement.
The suit argued the county should have treated the situation as a medical emergency instead of with “physical force.”
However, the county District Attorney’s Office concluded in its own internal investigation there were no “criminal acts or wrongdoing by any of the officers involved.”
Both District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis and county Manager C. David Pedri responded to the matter Wednesday, as seen in an accompanying report.
Mackey’s family criticized the District Attorney’s decision at their media appearance on Wednesday, with his daughter characterizing it as the county investigating itself, leading to a biased result, and they are calling for better medical training for employees at the facility.
The family had announced plans to release a video showing what happened inside the prison on the anniversary of his death, but a lawyer representing the family said the video release plan had been halted due to the pending litigation.
Most of the county’s cost for the settlement is covered by the county’s insurance because the county’s sole contribution is a $50,000 insurance deductible, officials said.
All 10 council members in attendance had approved the settlement on June 23, with Councilman Harry Haas absent. County Councilman Walter Griffith had said the matter was “very concerning” and referred to a video that had been shown to council in executive session.
The litigation against the county is still technically active because the court has not yet notified the plaintiffs and county that it has accepted their proposed settlement, the county law office said. The county’s settlement was not an attempt to silence Mackey’s family because the county made no requests to the court for a gag order or any bans on the release of a video, the office said.
The portion of suit against county prison inmate health care provider WellPath LLc (formerly Correct Care Solutions) is still set to proceed because the company was not part of the county settlement agreement.
In his post sharing the video, Johnson issued a warning that the video shows the death of Mackey while he was in custody and is “graphic and very disturbing to watch.”
“He did not deserve to die like this,” it said.