Local News

Murder suspect's mother files lawsuit against state

Posted May 8, 2008 1:42 p.m. EDT
Updated May 8, 2008 7:11 p.m. EDT

— The mother of a murder suspect who committed suicide while in custody has filed a lawsuit against the state, claiming it failed to protect her son while he was being held.

Drew Planten – who was arrested in October 2005 in connection with the May 2002 rape and homicide of 23-year-old Stephanie Bennett – hanged himself in his prison cell at Central Prison in Raleigh on Jan. 2, 2006.

A State Bureau of Investigation inquiry found there was no foul play in his death and there was nothing correctional officers could have done to stop him.

Planten's mother, however, Stephanie Chandler, claims the Department of Correction and the state Department of Health and Human Services failed to comply with applicable standards of care for her son, who had been diagnosed with acute stress reaction.

Following an initial court appearance in which Planten was unresponsive and catatonic, he was transferred from the Wake County Jail to Central Prison to await trial.

The suit says Planten, 35, was placed in solitary confinement and had been the focus of a suicide watch at different intervals through his detention.

But when his mental health began improving, he wasn't allowed outside his cell for more than an hour a week, despite policies in place for stress disorder patients while they are in solitary confinement, the lawsuit says.

"His condition severely deteriorated," the lawsuit says. "He became withdrawn and unresponsive again. His declining mental status culminated in Drew's death when he hung himself."

Chandler's also alleges her son did not get consistent mental health counseling, and an affidavit from a former Central Prison psychiatrist states patients "were going months at a time with no face-to-face contact" with clinicians.

The state has filed a routine motion to dismiss the lawsuit. The case will be heard by the North Carolina Industrial Commission.

Chandler did not return calls Thursday from WRAL seeking comment. But in a 2006 interview following her son's death, she said she did not think the prison "tried very hard" to keep him safe.

"I couldn't believe they could allow this to happen when he was being supposedly in psychiatric ward, where they would be mindful of his demeanor and mood," she said.

Bennett's father said Thursday he does not think there was any merit to the case.

"Planten was a very intelligent individual," Carmon Bennett said. "He us used it in all the wrong ways. The day he was arrested he had a .9 mm on his possession, and if he had had a chance to use it. I think he would have committed suicide then."

A maintenance employee at Bridgeport Apartments found Stephanie Bennett's body inside her first-floor unit on May 21, 2002. An autopsy showed she had been raped and strangled.

Carmon Bennett, who has filed a lawsuit against the apartment complex claiming it didn't address safety issues that could have helped prevent the slaying, said Chandler's complaint has dredged up painful memories for him and his family.

"Yes, it's painful," he said. "It just brings back all the bad things about Stephanie's tragic loss of life."