SCRANTON, Pa. (AP) — Government attorneys urged a judge on Friday to throw out a lawsuit in which former death row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal claims prison officials have shown “deliberate indifference” to his health.
Abu-Jamal’s lawsuit was filed before he exhausted an administrative appeals process as required under federal law, argued Laura Neal, a lawyer for the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.
“It’s discouraging inmates from running into court, which Mr. Abu-Jamal did,” she said of the process.
U.S. District Judge Robert Mariani noted that Abu-Jamal filed an amended complaint last month, after the corrections department rejected his medical appeals.
Abu-Jamal, 61, is a former Black Panther and radio journalist serving life in prison for the murder of a white Philadelphia police officer more than 30 years ago. He said in the lawsuit that prison officials and doctors have systematically denied him proper medical care for maladies ranging from hepatitis C to high blood sugar.
He wants Mariani to order his jailers to allow him to be seen by a doctor of his choosing and to provide adequate treatment. He also is demanding monetary damages.
Abu-Jamal is scheduled to testify by video hookup from the state prison in Frackville.
After spending time in the hospital earlier this year, Abu-Jamal’s health has apparently improved. Suzanne Ross, a longtime supporter, wrote on the “Free Mumia” website that she visited him in late November and “he looked so healthy and radiant, so much like he used to, and he sounded so good,” though she added he “still itches and still experiences pain.”
Abu-Jamal’s lawsuit said he was diagnosed with hepatitis C, a chronic blood-borne infection that gradually destroys the liver, in 2012. Eventually, he got an itchy rash over 70 percent of his body that his lawyers say is a complication of the disease. Prison officials have not adequately treated either his hepatitis or the rash, the suit said.
Prison doctors also failed to address a sudden spike in Abu-Jamal’s blood sugar level in early March, and, weeks later, he lost consciousness and was rushed to the hospital in diabetic shock, he claims.
The suit asserts the prison is violating the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment by withholding appropriate medical care.
A federal magistrate ruled in September that Abu-Jamal had failed to show “immediate irreparable harm” and recommended that Mariani rule against him.
Abu-Jamal was convicted for the 1981 murder of Officer Daniel Faulkner. His conviction has been upheld through years of appeals, but a federal court threw out his death sentence in 2008, citing flawed jury instructions. He has gained international support for his claim that he’s the victim of a racist justice system.