THE DEATH OF FERNANDO WHITE

By Julian Heicklen

September 20, 2001

Fernando White DF-4666 was a 47-year old black male inmate at the State Correctional Institution (SCI) at Graterford. According to the Montgomery County Coroner’s office, he was pronounced dead at 6:27 PM on July 16, 2001. He died of cardiac dysrhythmia due to coronary stenosis. There was no evidence of trauma. Here are the events of the half-hour immediately preceding his death.

I received an affidavit about the death of Mr. White from Joseph Woolfolk AY-7183, an inmate at SCI Graterford. On July 16, at about 6:00 PM, Mr. Woolfolk was working on the block as the trash man. He observed Mr. White in his cell. He was not a threat to anyone. Mr. White was making a lot of noise banging on his bed. All the guards knew Mr. White, who had medical problems, was not getting his medicine. Lieutenant Lopez opened Mr. White's cell and turned on the light. Mr. White turned it off. This repeated 3 or 4 times. Then Lieutenant Lopez reached for Mr. White. Sergeant Flam moved toward Mr. White. All the other guards from the dining room came over.

Immediately thereafter, Lopez and White were fighting outside of the cell on the floor. Then 6-8 guards were on top of White. Mr. White was handcuffed and brought to his feet. Everything was over. Mr. White had a little blood over his right eye, but he was not really hurt. Mr. White walked off the block under his own power. There are cameras on the block and in the main hallway. Mr. Woolfolk has been told that White was taken to the commissary, where there are no cameras. About 10-12 minutes later, Mr. Woolfolk was told that White was dead.

According to Mr. Woolfolk, there are some nurses who no longer work at SCI Graterford, because they refused to say what the Security Office wanted them to say. Mr. Woolfolk tried to contact three lawyers, two news media, the NAACP, and family members. He also prepared a signed statement to the Office of Professional Responsibility.

On July 20, 2001, sixteen typed pages of letters were confiscated by the Security Office, when the Security Officers conducted an investigative search of his cell. Security photocopied those letters. Mr. Woolfolk was placed in isolation under dubious charges. Fifteen days later, all charges were dismissed. However, he still is being harassed.

I received a letter from inmate Ed Monroe DL-5904, who lived in a cell near Mr. White. He wrote that Mr. White was locked in B section of the E-block. He was not allowed out of his cell while the A section inmates were eating. At this time a correctional officer (CO) will not open an inmate’s cell, unless it is a medical emergency.

Mr. White was banging on his door requesting his medication. Lieutenant Lopez and a sergeant came to his door and began to taunt him. When they opened his door and stepped in, Mr. White continued to request his medicine. The lieutenant and sergeant continued to taunt him. One of them gently grabbed his arm and the other one patted him on the lower back. Mr. White snapped. Their altercation carried into the hallway.

Soon several officers appeared, wrestled Mr. White to the ground, and handcuffed him. They escorted Mr. White off the block. When he left the block he was fine. According to procedure, the COs were supposed to escort Mr. White directly to the restricted housing unit. Instead, it was said (not witnessed by Monroe) that they stopped at the commissary, which was unoccupied. There he died. According to Mr. Monroe, two nurses who work in the infirmary realized that the COs killed Mr. White. They wish to remain quiet and are looking for other jobs.

Fernando White died of heart failure. It is not clear if this was the result of having his medicine withheld and the stress of the altercation, or if it was unrelated to these events.