BOISE – Reports from a state investigator and three staffers at an Idaho prison suggest that inmates’ medical records may have been intentionally changed or destroyed in violation of a federal court order.
The reports surfaced in connection with a whistleblower lawsuit brought by a former mental health care provider at the Idaho State Correctional Institution.
The state prison is already under close federal court scrutiny because of a long-running class-action lawsuit over substandard health care and other problems, including missing inmate medical records. As a result of that lawsuit, the federal court has placed the prison under its oversight until the problems are fixed. Idaho Department of Correction Director Kevin Kempf told lawmakers earlier this year that he hoped the federal oversight would end in 18 months.
On Thursday, the attorney in the whistleblower case, Andrew Schoppe, sent a letter to U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill alleging the potential destruction of evidence.
Idaho Department of Correction spokesman Jeff Ray said the department couldn’t comment on the matter because of the pending litigation. If the reports are accurate, the state corrections agency could be at risk of sanctions from a federal judge, including years of additional oversight by the court.
The allegations of evidence tampering arose in a 4th District Court lawsuit brought by Diana Canfield, a former mental health clinician at the Idaho State Correctional Institute.
In her lawsuit, Canfield contends she felt forced to resign after she was targeted and harassed by her supervisor for pointing out that the state wasn’t following its own handbook for inmate mental health care.
The lawsuit said Canfield was about to be fired because her supervisor, deputy warden Shell Wamble-Fisher, accused her of tampering with medical records to make it seem she had seen inmates she never examined. Canfield denied that accusation.
A month after Canfield resigned, the Idaho Department of Corrections medical director, Dr. Richard Craig, filed a complaint against her with the Idaho Bureau of Occupational Licenses, which launched a formal investigation.
Though most of the prison’s medical care is provided by a private company, Canfield, Wamble-Fisher, Craig and the other clinicians mentioned in the lawsuit are Department of Correction employees.
Investigator Cindy Stephenson found that the problem was likely with Wamble-Fisher, not Canfield.
“From everything I have been told, it would appear there is an issue of some type with the supervisor, Ms. Wamble-Fisher,” Stephenson wrote in her investigative report. “She had access to all computer records and all hard copy files. Ms. Canfield’s notes, documents and information had been altered, removed, or tampered with on multiple occasions based on information I have received from several individuals.”
Canfield and other department staffers also filed sworn statements claiming Wamble-Fisher hid troublesome inmates and made sure that others were readily available when the federal judge sent a special investigator to the prison. They also said Wamble-Fisher lied to the investigator when she said inmates were never kept for more than a day in holding cells, which have no beds or sinks.
Attorneys representing inmates in the federal lawsuit did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A message left for Wamble-Fisher was not immediately returned.
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