Judge rules on care for Tennessee inmate who severed penis

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee judge on Friday ordered prison officials to provide better care for a death row inmate being held in restraints after he cut off his penis.

Riverbend Maximum Security Institution must provide clothing and other necessities to Henry Hodges while he recovers but can keep him restrained for his safety, Davidson County Chancellor I’Ashea Myles ordered Friday. Hodges has been naked and restrained by his arms and legs on a thin mattress over a concrete slab since Oct. 21, when he returned to prison after being hospitalized for his injury, said Kelley Henry, an attorney for Hodges.

Henry had filed an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order against prison officials on Friday morning after visiting Hodges in prison the previous day.

Without an emergency order from the court, “the risk of irreparable harm is great,” she had said. Hodges could have bedsores, develop sepsis and die, she argued. “And the lack of mental stimulation constitutes torture.”

Arguing for the Tennessee Department of Correction, Deputy Attorney General Scott Sutherland had said the judge shouldn’t second-guess the judgement of the prison doctors.

“He is being provided around-the-clock care,” Sutherland said of Hodges. “He’s being evaluated every 24 hours to determine whether the use of restraints is necessary.”

On Friday, Myles ordered prison officials to provide Hodges with clothing and care for his extremities and back. She said the prison must provide him with mental stimuli and lower the lights so that he can sleep. The prison was also ordered to allow Henry and any experts she engages to see Hodges and evaluate him in preparation for another hearing on Nov. 14.

Myles prohibited the prison from “any treatment that constitutes cruel and unusual punishment” or violates Hodges’ rights.

According to the complaint, Hodges periodically suffers from psychotic episodes. One of those began around Oct. 3, when Hodges started smearing feces on the walls of his cell. Rather than provide him with mental health treatment, prison officers began withholding food from Hodges, according to the complaint.

On Oct. 7, Hodges broke a window out in his cell and used a razor to slit his left wrist. In the infirmary, he told the treatment provider he needed to go on suicide watch. However, he was returned to a cell where, less than an hour later, he severed his penis from his body with a razor blade, according to the complaint.

Hodges was taken to Vanderbilt University Medical Center, where surgeons reattached his penis. Despite holding Hodges’ medical power of attorney, Henry was not allowed to see him during the two weeks he was there.

When he returned to the prison, he was placed naked in restraints in a cell with “no television, radio, or any other means of mental stimulation” that is lit up day and night. He was left to lie in his own defecation at one point and has stopped eating, according to the complaint.

Hodges was sentenced to death in 1992 by a Nashville jury that found him guilty of murdering telephone repairman Ronald Bassett in May 1990. He also was sentenced to 40 years in prison for robbing Bassett.

Myles ordered the state’s attorneys to give her an update on Hodges’ health on Nov. 3. At the Nov. 14 hearing she will consider whether to extend or modify the temporary restraining order.