- Associated Press - Thursday, May 28, 2015

PHOENIX (AP) - The family of a man who died after being attacked inside an Arizona state prison has blamed Corrections Department officials for his death, saying he might have survived if he’d been treated promptly.

Neil Early died in a hospital days after being sexually assaulted and beaten in a minimum security unit at the privately run correctional facility near Kingman, according to a legal claim filed on behalf of his parents and young son.

They’re seeking $7.5 million in damages from the state.

Early lay unconscious in his bunk Jan. 16, bleeding with a fractured skull when prison medical staffers were called, according to the claim, a legal precursor to a lawsuit.

It says his injuries weren’t properly assessed and that emergency responders weren’t summoned for nearly two hours. When he arrived at Kingman Regional Medical Center, doctors had him airlifted to a trauma hospital in Las Vegas where he died Jan. 19.

The claim says the state failed to protect Early from a prolonged beating and sexual assault or to care for him properly afterward.

“It’s just that this seems to have gone on for a substantial amount of time without anybody recognizing that it was occurring. This isn’t like a quick punch and the guards descend,” said Scott Zwillinger, the attorney representing the family.

Department of Corrections spokesman Andrew Wilder said the department can’t comment because of the pending claim. He said the assault remains under investigation and would provide no additional information.

In addition to the state, the claim also names prison operator Management Training Corporation and a private prison health provider. MTC declined to comment.

Arizona Corrections Department reports show just a handful of inmates die from homicides each year, with four dead so far in the budget year that ends July 1 and three the previous fiscal year.

Inmate assaults and fights, however, are rising at a faster rate than the prison population, state numbers show.

Early had been serving a five-year sentence for theft and possession of drug paraphernalia.

According to court documents, he was addicted to heroin and was arrested after stealing video games in 2011 in Peoria to sell for drug money.

Early’s father, Keith Early, said he had hoped the prison term would straighten his son out. Neil Early had a young son, “and a girlfriend that was sticking by him.”

Instead, Keith Early said, rampant drugs, extortion and violence in prison cost him his son.

Prison records show Neil Early was twice disciplined for refusing or failing drug tests.

Keith Early said he and his wife are torn up by his son’s death. He said there isn’t a day that goes by where they don’t “think about what if” and that they’re constantly troubled by “the thoughts of what actually happened to him.”

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