Wisconsin youth prison counselor is declared brain-dead after inmate assault (2024)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A counselor at Wisconsin’s troubled youth prison has been declared brain-dead following a fight with a 16-year-old inmate, the county coroner said Wednesday, less than three weeks after prosecutors filed criminal charges against a warden and multiple staffers in connection with two maximum security inmates’ deaths.

Corey Proulx, 49, was declared brain-dead Tuesday so the family could proceed with organ donation, Lincoln County Coroner Valerie Caylor said.

Prosecutors charged the inmate in adult court on Wednesday with second-degree reckless homicide, felony murder-battery and two counts of battery by a prisoner. He could face up to 58 years in prison if convicted on all counts.

Online court records show Lincoln County Circuit Judge Galen Bayne-Allison set a $100,000 cash bond for him. A call to his attorney, listed in online court records as public defender Jessica Fehrenbach, rang unanswered on Wednesday afternoon.

The Associated Press is not naming the inmate because his attorneys could try to move the case into juvenile court, where proceedings are secret.

State Rep. Michael Schraa, chair of the Assembly’s corrections committee, issued a statement Wednesday questioning whether the Department of Corrections is operating in “crisis mode.” He promised to to hold a hearing on the agency’s overall operations “as quickly as possible.”

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“We have a deceased staff member, nine DOC employees facing criminal charges, and four deceased inmates,” Schraa said, adding later in the statement: “Lives need to be protected.”

Schraa and Sen. Van Wanggaard, who chairs the Senate judiciary committee, filed an open records request with the Department of Corrections on Wednesday for all documents connected to the fight, including audio and video recordings. Sen. Mary Felzkowski and Rep. Calvin Callahan, whose districts include the youth prison, joined the request.

The records are of “paramount interest” to the communities around the prison as well as the oversight committees, the legislators wrote.

Proulx was injured during a fight Monday night at Lincoln Hills-Copper Lake Schools, the state’s youth prison in Irma in northern Wisconsin. According to a criminal complaint, the 16-year-old inmate had been planning to attack a staff member whom he believed was abusing her power and treating him unfairly.

He had another inmate obtain a cup of soap, threw it at the staff member’s face and repeatedly punched her before fleeing into an outdoor courtyard.

Proulx approached the inmate, who began punching him without being provoked, according to the complaint. Video surveillance shows the inmate punch Proulx twice in the face using “full force.” Proulx went limp, fell and hit his head on the pavement. The inmate then climbed up a basketball hoop and sat on the hoop overseeing the courtyard, the complaint said.

The first staff member was taken to a hospital, treated and released. Proulx was airlifted to another hospital.

The inmate did not suffer any injuries that required medical treatment, Department of Corrections officials said Tuesday.

Gov. Tony Evers ordered U.S. and Wisconsin flags to fly at half-staff through sunset Thursday to honor Proulx.

“By all accounts, Corey was a dedicated public servant who led with kindness and compassion in his commitment toward helping and supporting the youth he worked with,” the governor said in statement.

Corrections officials said in their statement that Proulx returned to his job as a counselor at Lincoln Hills last spring after briefly leaving the facility two years before.

“A career in corrections, with its dual mission to protect the public and guide individuals toward rehabilitation, can be demanding and requires so many sacrifices for our staff and our families, and Corey made the ultimate sacrifice,” DOC Secretary Jared Hoy said in a statement. “Our DOC family is mourning Corey’s loss, and we are keeping all of his family members and friends in our thoughts.”

Lincoln Hills-Copper Lake is Wisconsin’s only youth prison. The facility has been plagued by allegations of staff-on-inmate abuse, including excessive use of pepper spray, restraints and strip searches. A court-appointed monitor is currently overseeing the facility.

“I am finding it difficult to keep my anger at bay as I think about why this occurred, and how it was allowed to occur,” Felzkowski, one of the legislators whose district includes the prison, said in a statement. “For far too long, I have been sounding the alarm that it was always a matter of when, and not if, a tragedy of this magnitude would occur at Lincoln Hills.”

The death comes a little more than two weeks after prosecutors charged Waupun Correctional Institution Warden Randall Hepp and eight members of his staff with various felonies, including misconduct and inmate abuse, in connection with two inmates’ deaths at the maximum security facility since last year. One of the inmates died of a stroke and the other died of dehydration, according to court documents. Prosecutors allege Hepp and the workers failed to care for them.

Two other inmates have died at Waupun over the last year. One killed himself and the other died of a drug overdose. No one has been charged in those deaths but federal investigators are probing a suspected smuggling ring at the prison.

The state prison system also has been grappling with a chronic shortage of guards. The vacancy rate at Lincoln Hills-Copper Lake stood around 12% during the first two weeks of June, according to the most recent data on the DOC’s website.

Wisconsin youth prison counselor is declared brain-dead after inmate assault (2024)
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