A Michigan woman has filed a lawsuit against the Michigan Department of Corrections over the bizarre death of her son in prison last April. According to attorneys for the plaintiff, Debra Scherbinski, her son, 41-year-old Kenneth Dalstra, died on April 8, 2014 due to medical complications stemming from his consuming large amounts of water. Kenneth Dalstra was serving a 3 to 75-year sentence for criminal sexual misconduct and was reportedly suffering “seizure activity, full-blown schizophrenia, and [was] devoid of mental stability" according to the suit.
After staff at the Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility in Ionia, Michigan noticed on April 6, 2014 that he was drinking non-stop in his cell, Dalstra was assessed by a psychologist and subsequently placed on suicide watch. The psychologist reported that Dalstra posed a moderate suicide risk and a suicide plan was put in place, including monitoring him every fifteen minutes. Dalstra's behaviour then grew more bizarre, including taking off all his clothes, placing fecal matter on his eye, and "spraying soap on his eyes" to wash out demons. Though the water in his cell had been shut off at one point, guards then turned the water back on and Dalstra was able to continue his non-stop drinking.
By April 8, Dalstra was found to be non-responsive in his cell and was later pronounced dead by paramedics. The cause of death was believed to be water intoxication caused by psychogenic polydipsia. This term is usually applied to people with psychiatric problems who drink large quantities of liquid due to a dry mouth sensation. It is unclear at this point whether Dalstra intended to commit suicide though he had been drinking water non-stop for two hours before he was found in his cell.
The lawsuit is seeking at least $75,000 in damages as well as pain and suffering. Three officers and other prison staff are also named as defendants as Debra Scherbinski reported personally telling prison officials that her son posed a danger to himself. The lawsuit also alleges that prison staff members were well aware that the inmate "faced a substantial risk of serious harm" and "acted with deliberate indifference" to his health and safety.
A spokesman for the Michigan Department of Corrections stated that Dalstra's death is still under investigation.