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Former Nebraska prisons administrator sues state, says prison was manipulating housing stats
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Former Nebraska prisons administrator sues state, says prison was manipulating housing stats

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The administrator who oversaw the state prisons' mental health and substance abuse services and sex offender program is suing her former employer alleging, among other things, that the prison was manipulating housing statistics by moving inmates who weren't mentally ill into the mental health unit.

In a lawsuit filed in Lancaster County District Court, Alice Mitwaruciu alleged that Dawn-Renee Smith, deputy director of the Department of Correctional Services since 2018, made clinical decisions affecting the mental health care and treatment of inmates, regardless of a lack of medical or mental health training.

Alice Mitwaruciu

Alice Mitwaruciu

Mitwaruciu, a Black woman from Kenya, also is alleging she faced racial discrimination while working for the prisons. She said prison leaders treated her in an overtly aggressive and disrespectful way and interfered with her ability to do her job by keeping her out of meetings that involved matters she oversaw. 

The case comes on the heels of lawmakers last month approving a $100,000 payment to settle a discrimination lawsuit filed against the prison by Razak Aljanabi, a former corporal at the Nebraska State Penitentiary who is from Iraq and a practicing Shia Muslim. 

Among the claims, he said during a roll call in 2016, a lieutenant announced the start of Ramadan to booing and laughing, then said "Believe me, I feel the same way" and laughed. A month later, he was told he wasn't allowed to pray during his shift and couldn't have his prayer rug or holy book on him, though other officers were able to have Bibles.

Aljanabi left his job over it in 2017. 

In the newly filed case, attorney Kathleen Neary said Smith decided which inmates were admitted into the mental health unit and housing placement of inmates, and "improperly transferred inmates without mental health conditions to the mental health unit, presumably to manipulate housing statistics."

She said Smith's "illegal conduct" had severe and adverse consequences, "particularly for the inmates who suffered from mental health conditions or mental illness, including, but not limited to increased agitation and violence in the mental health unit due to improper classification of inmates."

Neary said it also posed a substantial risk of harm to employees.

She said when Mitwaruciu reported it to the medical director, Dr. Harbans Deol, and Corrections Director Scott Frakes, they did nothing about it. 

In the spring of 2019, Mitwaruciu said she also learned that some inmates in the mental health unit were going days without getting prescribed medications, contrary to doctor's orders.

It resulted in "a substantial increase in inmate mental health symptoms, an increase in inmate violence, misconduct, and paranoia, all of which placed defendant's employees and inmates at a substantial risk of harm," Neary said.

The Nebraska Attorney General's Office, which will represent the prison, declined to comment on the lawsuit Wednesday, and Smith didn't immediately respond to a request. 

As part of the lawsuit, Neary is asking the judge to direct the state to reinstate her to her former position with all back pay and benefits and award her compensatory damages. 

"Alice Mitwaruciu, a highly respected clinical psychologist who had worked for the Department of Corrections for years, complied with her legal obligation to report and oppose the alleged illegal conduct of top DOC administrators as well as the denial of the most basic medical needs of incarcerated persons," Neary told the Journal Star on Wednesday. 

She said prison employees should be commended, not demoted, for reporting alleged illegal conduct.

"After hearing the evidence at trial, we are confident the jury will protect the rights of DOC employees who blow the whistle on illegal acts and actors," Neary said.

In August 2016, Mitwaruciu was promoted to acting behavioral health administrator when the previous administrator resigned amid an investigation into her alleged "over familiarity" with a parolee. Two months later, she was hired as the administrator. 

Reach the writer at 402-473-7237 or lpilger@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSpilger

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