N. Ind. mother sues over son's death in prison

SOUTH BEND, Ind. - A northern Indiana mother has filed a lawsuit against the state, the Department of Correction, the Westville Correctional Facility and some staff members, alleging they were responsible for her son's death.

The lawsuit filed Feb. 25 in U.S. District Court in South Bend by Alice Blessing of Middlebury alleges that personnel at the prison were either deliberately indifferent to the psychological disorders displayed by her 24-year-old son, Steven Blessing, or that unknown prison personnel killed him and made his death appear to be a suicide.

Department of Correction spokesman Doug Garrison declined comment, referring questions to the state attorney general's office. Attorney general's spokesman Bryan Corbin said the office would respond to the allegations in court at the appropriate time.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, alleging wrongful death, gross negligence, bad faith and wanton and willful and malicious misconduct. The lawsuit alleges Blessing had a documented history of mental illness that included depression.

Blessing was found hanged in his cell at the Westville Correctional Facility on Feb. 26, 2012. He was serving a 10-year sentence after pleading guilty to aggravated battery. The lawsuit says Blessing was originally held at the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City and was transferred after providing prison officials information about other inmates who then allegedly threatened him.

The lawsuit alleges that correctional officers at Westville threatened to place Blessing in an area where he would be housed with associates of those he had informed on at the Indiana State Prison. The lawsuit contends Blessing feared for his life so he assaulted correction officers so he would be placed in solitary confinement.

The lawsuit contends Blessing tried to commit suicide after that, but it wasn't included in his records. The lawsuit contends Blessing resisted when prison officials attempted to transfer him to another area in the Westville facility, so he was ordered held in segregation longer. The lawsuit contends Blessing died after being told he would be placed back in an area where he knew he would be in danger.

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