- Associated Press - Saturday, December 20, 2014

GOSHEN, Ind. (AP) - The mother sank to the floor when she saw what was on the news.

Hours earlier, Robin Eutsey, a longtime Goshen resident, had learned her son died in prison while serving a sentence for burglary and related theft charges.

But she didn’t know how, until she saw the newscast. And she didn’t know why.

Patrick Whetstone was a teenager when he began serving time in prison. He was immature going in, as he was just 18. He was 25 when he died.

Eutsey remembers how her husband described the call he received from the Indiana Department of Correction in August 2009: “There was an incident at the facility and your son is dead. Do you want to claim the body?” The family received no further information.

It wasn’t until she saw the evening news that she learned another inmate tortured and strangled her son.

She fell to the floor and cried.

The answers about the death would come slowly and excruciatingly over the next few years, mostly through a lawsuit that in May yielded a substantial settlement from the Department of Correction and its contracted mental health care provider, Corizon Inc.

The answers that Eutsey fought for tell a story of strained mental health care in prisons. An examination of dozens of court documents reveal guards who skipped regular cell checks and an inmate who several times warned doctors and prison staff that he would kill someone.

Luis Silveria carried out his threat, beating and strangling Whetstone in a cell they shared in a mental health unit at Wabash Valley Correctional Facility in southern Indiana.

“I had to know everything, no matter how bad it was,” Eutsey told the South Bend Tribune (https://bit.ly/12nEdY5 ). “I saw the pictures of him with the ligature marks. I needed to see all the records.”

With a variety of funding and other challenges, prisons face systemic problems in caring for the mentally ill, especially in a country with some of the highest incarceration rates in the world. In Indiana, about 6,000 inmates are diagnosed with a mental illness.

In this case, the person who slipped through the cracks was Eutsey’s son.

His family affectionately called him P.J., but Eutsey joked that he was Patrick John when he was in trouble.

Growing up in Goshen, Whetstone was a friendly but impressionable kid who loved to fish and play practical jokes. He made mistakes, and he was tried as an adult after he was arrested at 17 for burglary, theft and forgery.

“He had a movie star vision of what it was like to be cool. It was cool to be bad,” Eutsey said.

The teenager struggled in prison, his mother said. He was loud, and at times irritated others. He struggled with bipolar disorder. But Eutsey says she watched her son grow into a young man who had changed.

By August 2009, Whetstone was about a month away from his release. He talked about getting a job and looked forward to spending time with his niece.

During one of Eutsey’s last prison visits to her son, a guard told her how much he had grown in the past several years. He was mature. He could hold a conversation, the guard told her.

“He was more settled,” Eutsey said. “He was ready to go home.”

Silveria landed in the Indiana prison system in 2003 after he was captured following an escape from incarceration for robbery in Rhode Island, where he has an extensive criminal history.

Silveria underwent a psychiatric evaluation upon admittance into the DOC. He was prescribed medications for a number of mental illnesses, according to court records.

He stayed in prison in Indiana after writing to a federal judge that he would “slice (his) throat with a dull knife.”

In June 2009, he found himself on the same bus as Whetstone during a transfer to the Special Needs Unit at Wabash Valley.

Silveria claimed he struck up a rapport with Whetstone and asked the man if he wanted to be “bunkies,” according to court records. The two were placed together in a cell in the unit meant for inmates with mental illnesses.

In a thick New England accent, Silveria casually described in a video deposition how he tortured and killed Whetstone.

Silveria tied him up, bashed his head on the concrete floor and then strangled him. Whetstone was found dead in his cell with his hands tied behind his back, a plastic bag over his head and a ligature around his neck.

“I did all I could to put him in all the pain I could,” Silveria testified. “And then I put him out of his misery and killed him.”

As she grappled with the grief over her son’s death, Eutsey’s questions piled up.

She hit roadblocks, though, in getting answers. On the day her son died, the prison would not tell her how he died. As the months progressed, she received some information piecemeal, mostly through media reports. She said her calls to the prison went unanswered.

“They would hang up on me and not call back,” Eutsey said.

So she took matters in her own hands and used Indiana’s public records laws. She requested the autopsy report and records from the hospital.

She looked at the photographs of her son’s body.

“My family has always frowned on me doing that,” Eutsey said. “They felt like that made things worse for me.”

But she had to know.

The family first began to piece the story together when Silveria was convicted and sentenced to 65 years in prison. The prosecutor shared the boxes of evidence - boxes that raised even more questions. She hired South Bend attorney Charles Rice and filed a lawsuit.

With the power of subpoena, Eutsey finally began receiving the answers she sought. She read depositions from staff members and doctors about her son’s death.

She read them in pieces to make it easier.

“Sometimes they made me angry,” she said. “Sometimes they made me cry.”

This is the story she uncovered.

Silveria’s file contains notes about multiple threats he made to doctors and prison staff, telling them he would kill someone if they did not segregate him from the general prison population.

Segregating inmates, however, was not a simple matter. A 2005 ACLU lawsuit had sought an end to segregation of mentally ill inmates, arguing that it was cruel and unusual and can exacerbate the illness.

But Eutsey’s lawsuit argued the prison had reason to give Silveria a different classification, which would have designated him as dangerous to himself or others and kept him segregated in a single cell.

In the months leading up to the murder, Silveria was not taking his medication, as he was hoarding the pills, records show. A doctor wrote that he was doing well without the medication, so she kept him off.

An email circulated among prison staff and doctors as Silveria was transferred into the Special Needs Unit, warning staff that the inmate needed diligent supervision. It contained an attachment of a 2007 email from a prison official that recommended segregation and said Silveria was a “high-profile offender.”

In July 2009, Silveria said during a therapy session that he must be segregated from the general population or else the prison staff would be responsible for the inevitable violence.

He had made multiple similar threats in the past, like when he wrote in a letter to prison officials in 2004: “I promise you the day I hit Wabash Valley population is the day someone dies.”

Still, Silveria ended up sharing a cell with Whetstone.

Guards are supposed to do security checks of the Special Needs Unit every 30 minutes. But in the six hours leading up to Whetstone’s murder, guards missed nine of the 12 required security checks, court documents say.

These days, Eutsey finds comfort in the rain. It was raining on the day she learned her son died in prison.

“I’ve gone out in storms and just stood there,” Eutsey said. “It sounds crazy, but it makes me feel closer to him.”

The mother is trained as an emergency room nurse, but started working part time in a doctor’s office after her son’s death. Less stress, she said.

She doesn’t live in Goshen anymore but regularly drives from her Richmond home to visit her son’s grave.

Eutsey told her story to shed light on challenges with housing mentally ill inmates in prisons. She was not finished seeking justice when a judge handed down the maximum sentence for Silveria.

The mother felt more at peace when the Department of Correction and Corizon settled her lawsuit in May. She received $400,000 from the state. Corizon’s contribution to the settlement is confidential. Both Corizon and the DOC declined to discuss the lawsuit.

Eutsey hopes her lawsuit spurred, at the very least, small-scale changes.

“I don’t want big, miraculous, costly changes,” Eutsey said. “Just follow your own policies.”

Five years after her son’s death, she hopes the system is better.

___

Information from: South Bend Tribune, https://www.southbendtribune.com

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