Shaheen Mackey is the 41-year-old inmate who died following an altercation with guards in Luzerne County Prison in Wilkes-Barre, Pennslyvania, in June 2018. Following the altercation, Mackey was taken to Wilkes-Barre General Hospital. His death occurred on June 8, two days after he was taken into custody. Mackey’s cause of death was listed as being of “natural causes.”
Mackey was imprisoned on June 6, 2018, after he was accused of violating a protection order. Two women had previously accused Mackey of stalking and of making threats of violence. He was a resident of Berwick, Pennsylvania.
In the wake of the death of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the mass protests that followed, Mackey’s family wants an investigation into his death to be reopened, multiple sources in the Wilkes-Barre area reported in August 2020. Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis said in an August 5 statement that her office stands by its initial findings of no wrongdoing in the case.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Mackey’s Family Was Originally Told He Died Following a ‘Scuffle’ With Corrections Officers
Initial reports said that Mackey died after a “scuffle” with officers at the prison. WNEP reported in July 2018 that a press release from the prison at the time said Mackey collapsed following the scuffle and died.
In July 2020, a graphic video emerged on Facebook that was posted by Niem Johnson, the husband of the executor of Mackey’s estate. Johnson wrote in the caption, “While his hands was cuffed behind his back in the chair with a spit mask on his face and his feet shackled, the correctional officers shocked him with tasers and not just held the spit mask on his face but choked him with it.”
WARNING: DISTURBING. Shaheen Mackey had a seizure at Luzerne Co. Correctional Facility. Staff covered his face with a spit mask, cuffed his hands behind his back, shackled his feet, and STILL tased him. By the time they realize he was dead, it was already too late… Sickening!! pic.twitter.com/Hgw2tmsjJC
— Ben Crump (@AttorneyCrump) August 6, 2020
Speaking about the video, Mackey’s daughter, Tatiyanne Mackey, told WNEP, “It’s not fair. It should have to come to this, us putting out a video for people to see the truth. This is real pain; this is not a joke. This is real life.”
Mackey’s sister, Rasheda Hammonds, told WNEP in 2018, “It’s frustrating not knowing how he died.” Other family members were quoted as saying that they wanted to know the exact circumstances of his death even if it revealed that Mackey began the altercation. Hammonds had been quoted by WNEP in June 2018 as saying that her brother had “bruises all along the back of his arms, his thighs. It doesn’t explain just a scuffle.”
2. Mackey’s Family Filed a Lawsuit Against Luzerne County Alleging Officers Failed to Acknowledge That He Was Suffering an Epileptic Seizure
The family’s lawyer, Barry Dyller, said there was a video showing Mackey’s last moments. Dyller told WNEP, “When law enforcement has done nothing wrong, they are quick to show you what they have.” The WNEP story quoted Tatiyanne Mackey as saying, “He’s the most amazing dad ever.”
The Times-Leader in Wilkes-Barre reported in December 2019 that Mackey’s family had filed suit against Luzerne County and employees of the prison over his death. The suit alleged that officials did not provide Mackey with proper care in not acknowledging that he was having an epileptic seizure. Mackey’s family accuses prison officers of using stun guns on him more than 20 times while he was suffering from convulsions.
One section of the lawsuit read, “Instead of treating the situation as the medical emergency that it was, the correctional officers treated Mr. Mackey’s convulsions with more physical force.” In addition to the county and employees of the prison, Wellpath, a healthcare provider for prisons, was named in the lawsuit.
3. Mackey’s Family Was Awarded $3 Million in June 2020
In June 2020, Luzerne County Council voted to approve a $3 million settlement to Mackey’s family. Another of Mackey’s family’s attorneys, Theron Solomon, said at the time of the ruling, “We are looking for reform and we’re looking for real change. Including, I think they need to take a real hard look at their personnel,” WNEP reported.
4. The Prison Was Cleared of Any Wrongdoing in September 2018
In September 2018, The Times-Leader reported that the Luzerne County Correctional Facility was cleared of any wrongdoing in Mackey’s death. Following the decision, Solomon spoke out about the ruling, saying, via the Associated Press, “It’s Luzerne County finding Luzerne County not at fault. There should have been an investigation by someone other than the district attorney.” The AP report said that the county district attorney’s office alleged that Mackey suffered from severe coronary artery disease and that his outburst led to heart failure.
Mackey’s autopsy was performed by forensic pathologist Dr. Gary Ross. Mackey’s friend Star Ward told the Times-Leader that when she saw him lying in a hospital bed, “We get there, his body is bruised — pelvic area, arms, legs, his body is filling up with blisters. Fluid was coming out of his eyes. To be honest, he had bruises everywhere. He was turning yellow from the fluid. He had internal bleeding in his stomach.”
According to the AP, the district attorney report said Mackey was “drooling and ripping out his hair” when his cellmate called for guards around 6:45 p.m. on June 6. Later, Mackey began “flailing and spitting.” The report said the altercation between the officers and Mackey continued until he became unresponsive.
In a June 2018 video, Mackey talked about having “transient altered mental status.” Mackey said he was prone to violent outbursts. The Citizens’ Voice quoted Mackey as saying in the video, “I just got the diagnosis from my doctor. These (expletives) said I have homicidal outbursts. … Well, I have an excuse to murder (expletive) now. It’s on record. You act stupid and I’ll have a homicidal outburst. I’ll kill yo (expletive).”
5. Multiple Officers Who Were Named in Mackey’s Family’s Lawsuit Have Since Left the Corrections Department
The Citizens’ Voice reported in July 2020 that just before Mackey’s family was awarded the $3 million settlement, two of the corrections officers who were named in the lawsuit left their jobs. They were named in the article as Sergeant Richard Stofko and Corrections Officer Kimberly Karavitch. Stofko resigned and Karavitich retired. Another defendant, David McDermott, resigned his position in August 2019. A captain at the jail during the incident with Mackey, Francis Hacken, was appointed county coroner in October 2019, according to the Citizens’ Voice.