John Kristoffer Larsgard – Blog 6
I decided recently to discover, if I could, the general life status of John Kristoffer Larsgard, the Norwegian who was imprisoned in the state of Arizona after having been caught in Winslow after a car accident with his mother. If you are not familiar with this story, you will find details of that online at various news articles in Norwegian and English, and also at my five previous blog posts entitled with his name. These are posted at my website as well as at my Google blog, “Edvenson Consulting: News and Views.” Folks call him Kristoffer or Kris. I last wrote about Kris’s situation in the early Spring of 2012. And finally, attention is once again turning to him and his current predicament. None too soon, since he is now disabled – by and due to being in Arizona state prisons – and should probably have already been released to custodial care – paid for by the taxpayers of Arizona.
John’s prison time in Arizona began on Sept. 24, 2011. He was later sentenced to 7 ½ years in prison which, under normal procedures, would include ‘time served.’ He has thus now been in Arizona’s prison system’s custody for over half of that sentence – a period that many prisoners expect might result in release for good behavior – especially when prisons are overcrowded and understaffed, which Arizona’s are (see the State Auditor General’s recent report to the Arizona Legislature).
I was talking to his mother, Liv Larsgard, in Oslo. “Well, why hasn’t he been released yet?” I ask. “Because he’s had disciplinary cases against him, I imagine,” she replies. “Like what?” I say. “They said he was in a yard in his wheelchair and he wasn’t supposed to be there then, so they made a case of it. He said he had not been there and they could check their videotapes to see, but they just said ‘No.’ They don’t care.” “You’re kidding,” I say, “Well, do they add time for something like that?” “I’m not sure,” Liv answers, “but these disciplinary cases add up and then they put him into confinement. Like someone left their jacket in his room while visiting, so he took it back to their room in his wheelchair and tossed it in there, and they said that was forbidden so he also got in trouble for that.” Liv continues, “They said he could not make phone calls after November 28th last year because of these disciplinary behaviors.” As a result, Liv cannot talk to her son and he cannot keep her informed of his situation. I think she’s done, but she’s only getting started. “And they started returning my mail. You see, I was using pre-printed labels for his address and my address, and now no mail can go into the prison with any attachment so that’s not allowed.”
“Liv, why have they stopped your letters to him?” “They haven’t just stopped my letters to him – they keep them for some weeks un-opened and then they send them back. They say they cannot contain labels.” I say, “You mean they can’t include the ‘Documents only” label that the Norwegian post office wants to put on the envelopes – because the U.S. would like them to?” “Yes,” she bemoans. They think of anything to keep us from having communications.”
I’m feeling more and more like I’m the one who is drowning. So I try to do some basic arithmetic. “Okay, Liv, if he’s been in prison since Sept 24, 2011, he’s now been in prison over 4 years.” Liv pauses but it’s hard to say what she has to say. “I think they’re trying to kill him.” This sounds preposterous, so I have to ask how. “Well, he has been transferred 11 or 12 times just in 2015. He keeps trying to keep copies of the court documents he wants to use to file papers to try to have the case re-examined, but every time they move him, they take away all the documents he has in his possession and they never give them back. So he has to start all over again with his documents and his writing.” “Liv,” I say, “this can’t be permissible.” “That’s not all,” she continues, “The folks in Corizon Health told some other prisoners at his prison that he was an informant against them, and they hoped this would incite them to hurt him. And this happened more than once – at least twice. But some other prisoners heard the people involved talking about it, and told Kris, so he was able to go to the guards at the prison and tell them – so he could be put into the detention unit.” “What’s that?” I ask. “That’s solitary, or nearly so” says Liv. “Why?” “For his own protection,” she replies. So he’s now at Manzanita – Detention Unit.”
Liv says she’ll send me some documents that well-wishers, both attorneys and non-attorneys, have helped Kris put together just recently. He is currently bringing some cases in the courts, representing himself. He has had the kind assistance of a couple of attorneys, helping with the legal references and contexts. His mother, Liv, also keeps documents and notes, and receives a bit of help from friends and concerned persons in the Oslo area.
I am going to take one of those documents here in this blog episode, and simply take what are listed as the “allegations” and turn them into a story. I mean, why not? Let’s assume this is true, why don’t we? Why would someone make this stuff up? How could they imagine this? And before I begin, let’s recall that Kris was a relatively normal guy - but with a specialized neck injury and major neck surgery, on ordinary prescription medications for neck pain, and walking and talking when a Winslow native busted his nose, the cops arrested him, threw him into Navajo County Jail, and someone in the jail then managed to scuffle him to the floor and step on his neck, where he had previously had specialized surgery on his vertebrae in Iran.
After over five years in Arizona state prisons, Kris is now having to use a wheelchair and walker due to partial and probably permanent paralysis of part of his body.
Kris is preparing to argue that continuing to imprison him is unconstitutional and, as well, is completely disproportionate to his crime, which was, in effect, the crime of having unknowingly become a threat to the safety of persons who experienced no serious injury as a result.
So I’m turning to the contents of his story, as found in “Defendant’s Pro Per Petition for Post-Conviction Relief, No. CR2011-0767/CR2011-0780, Division III, (Evidentiary Hearing Requested)(Oral Argument Requested).
As background, Kris attended medical school in Australia, but began to have severe neck and hand pain. He had treatment for that in Norway and specialized surgery in Iran, where a surgeon specializing in such delicate surgeries was stationed at the time. His mother accompanied him on that surgery trip, having therefore gotten a visa page with her photo in her Norwegian passport, in which she, in deference to their culture, wore a head scarf for the visa photo. (This page was photocopied and kept as part of the Navajo County case documents as evidence of Kris’s and his mother’s link to terrorists.) So Winslow, with its population’s average age of 35, finally had their own terrorist.
Kris had also attended North Park University in Chicago, one of my alma maters, graduating Summa Cum Laude. He was living in California and studying to take the U.S. MCAT medical school entrance exam. His student visa renewal papers were in the process of being handled and, after he was jailed in Arizona, it became impossible for him to send the one fingerprint that application still required in order to go forward to processing. He did not therefore ‘let his student visa expire’ as some have suggested: it expired because his liberty was removed from him before he could finish the process, which was being handled in a timely manner.
Blame the navigation system: Well, I certainly could do that – on more than one occasion, it has oddly told me to do what I thought surely could not be correct – and was not correct. Kris was following a new rental car navigation system to try to get to an auto shop address in Winslow where his and his mother’s luggage were being held for them to pick up so they could continue their trip to Chicago – when he ended up entering an area in which a special community celebration was occurring. When he backed up to turn around, he did not see persons put into danger. Of course, he would not wish to endanger anyone when the car hit the curb. It was at the point when the father of some children on the sidewalk got enraged and ran after Kris’s and his mother’s car that thing began to disintegrate.
But let me leave the events of that fateful day behind us for a minute and talk more about what has happened since Kris entered incarceration. I won’t even get that far: I’ll have to write more soon.
Since Kris was sentenced he has brought a federal case claiming the state’s deliberate indifference to his medical needs while he has been in custody. The District Court denied summary judgment, meaning that they did not permit the case to be dismissed out-of-hand. Specifically, Kris has suffered such serious injuries while in the custody of the Arizona state prison system that he had to undergo emergency neurological surgery at the University of Arizona Medical Center. This occurred after he was (1) left on the floor of his cell for nearly one month with life threatening injuries (he could not sit or stand up): (2) he had what they knew was a history of seizures, and (3) he was eventually taken to a hospital in Tucson where the surgery was performed.
Problems were apparent even at Navajo County Jail when Kris was unable to receive the prescription medicines he was used to having. Staff were told and nothing was done about it. Without these and with the addition of intentional inmate injuries to Kris, he was experiencing severe pain most of the time. Kris described this pain as so extreme that death would have been more humane.
The medication he has received has varied greatly, and the most effective medicines have often not been prescribed nor provided consistently - a primary concern being that some of the medicines which work best for his situation are classified as narcotics, medicines freely prescribed in Norway, but for some reason considered a ‘security concern’ in Arizona. While Kris could usually get Ibuprofen for his pain, he also received no physical therapy after his degrading condition persisted. He was able to live a relatively normal life out of prison, with mild pain and medication. He told the prison staff about what he needed, and they stated that it was a controlled substance and was generally unavailable no matter what the inmate’s medical history. They did continue another medication that was designed to prevent seizures and muscle spasms. Still, his pain persisted.
When he was first sent into the state prison system, he was sent to the antique, dirty and dangerous Alhambra “Reception Facility.” From there, he was sent to Lewis prison in May, 2012. Here he requested a visit with a pain specialist for pain treatment for cervical spinal pain but was given only one of the two medicines he needed to successfully live with the pain. As a result, he had a seizure in his cell and awoke in pain on his cell room floor.
He was then seen by a doctor at Lewis prison who informed him that “chronic severe pain” was not “a chronic condition recognized” by the Arizona Department of Corrections. That’s news to me, reader. One learns something new every day. They did, however, state that seizures could be treated. The doctor prescribed the anti-seizure drug while Kris, familiar with it, tried to discuss with him the fact that this drug had significant adverse side effects. The doctor refused to prescribe medicine for Kris’s severe and chronic pain and, instead, suggested he submit another application for a health review and ‘restart the process.’ Because Kris could not get the medication he was used to having for pain, he began to suffer incontrollable muscle spasms in his neck and upper back.
In June, 2012 Kris was transferred to Yuma prison, but his medications and medical files were not sent there also. As a result, Kris was without his pain medication and suffering extreme pain at Yuma. He pleaded with Yuma prison staff to receive medical attention, but was advised that since he had been transferred to a new facility, he would be ‘at the end of the line’ of inmates to be seen. He was also told to expect considerable delay since there was only one medical doctor for Yuma, which houses about 5,000 inmates at any one time.
Kris became desperate and sent numerous letters of appeal to correction facility health service administrators and others whose concerns included inmate health services, and despite getting some answers, none resulted in any immediate help. Eventually, Kris got medicine that reduced the pain to moderate to severe. Then, in July, 2012 he was told his medical provider would be switched to a privately owned and operated company. Kris’s health condition began deterioration when, in late July, one person said she would attempt to get him the pain medication he needed as well as the seizure medicine he had used previously. While he did get some medications, in August he was told that his pain issues were now resolved when, in fact, his pain was still occasionally severe and was resulting in progressive deterioration of his physical condition. As early as 2012, he was having difficulty writing as a result of the effect of this pain, which he called “akin to torture.”
While Kris was at Yuma and while his condition worsened, his mother managed to put together the medical history files that illustrated Kris’s medical condition and history and deliver them to the doctor at Yuma. This doctor then saw Kris in September, 2012 and decided that Kris was not in any significant pain and “had to learn to live with some pain.” The doctor stated that the previous doctor opinions and prior treatment of Kris had no meaning within the Arizona Department of Corrections and that they would not be requesting stronger pain medication for him. In another visit to this doctor, the doctor emphasized that prison was supposed to be punishment and not comfortable.
As a result, in December, 2012, Kris had another serious seizure and was left in a state of partial paralysis. Kris woke up on the floor of his cell and could not move the left side of his body. Despite this status, Kris was left on the floor of his cell for the next three weeks. He was laid on a mat and given an empty shampoo bottle to urinate into. He managed to use the toilet about once each day, which was one foot away and took him 30 minutes to maneuver himself onto. He was also refused medical care treatment at Yuma because he had filed papers complaining of the lapses in his medical care and treatment. Staff at Yuma began to call him a “faker” and a “phony,” suggesting he was having “psychiatric issues” and no tangible physical injuries. He was eventually transferred to Tucson prison for psychiatric evaluation.
Once at Tucson prison, Kris was taken to the emergency department of University Physicians Hospital in Tucson where the staff determined that he had sustained serious neck and spinal cord injuries, and he was ordered into immediate spinal immobilization. Kris’s blood pressure at this point was so low that staff initiated a trauma procedure and he was transferred to the University of Arizona Trauma Center for immediate surgery. He remained hospitalized until February of 2013.
When he was discharged from the hospital, he was taken to the state’s Tucson prison medical unit. He was required, by his health providers at the hospital, to wear a body brace and pads, and was supposed to receive magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs) to monitor his progress. But that didn’t happen.
At about the same time, the state of Arizona terminated the contract they had with Wexford, the private contracted health care provider, and Wexford was replaced with another for-profit correctional medical and health service provider, Corizon. Which brings us to the folks who are more interested in planting rumors that he’s an informant when he is not – so that someone in his prison can kill him, an accident of course that could not be prevented – than they are in actually providing health services to prisoners.
What Kris is trying to do, instead, is argue his case for adequate medical care and treatment. He has filed more than 30 applications for health services to date, pleading for adequate medical attention. His pleas are joined by those of former Wexford staff whose professional opinions are ignored by the folks at Corizon. As a result, as he says himself, he sometimes wishes he would go to sleep and never wake up.
But Kris is also a fighter. Oh, you say? He’s not allowed to be a fighter. Well, when the fight is one for justice, it is hard not to be moved, in my opinion. Surely, as Kris wants to argue, the seriousness of his health issues were part of the factual evidence that was never given sufficient weight in his first trial. Had it been, do you think that the jury would have convicted him of attempting to endanger life and limb using a murderous tool? (The car that he was driving while trying to get away from people running after him, get his luggage and leave town?). As Kris can, I believe, reliably argue, (since I have read the Plaintiff state’s closing argument transcript), Kris’s pre-existing physical condition at the time of the incident as well as his medical history were clearly at issue already when the charges were filed, should have been the subject of discovery and should have resulted in facts produced at trial with even the least amount of professional diligence an attorney could muster: it must therefore have been intentionally ignored.
This has to have been the case since the visa page from Liv Larsgard’s Norwegian passport showing her wearing a scarf over her hair was not ignored – and the reason, as she explained, was that she was in Iran with her son for specialized spinal neck surgery, the cause of their earlier trip to Iran.
Would Kris’s neck difficulties have caused him to have an accident? No, his mother was driving when they had the accident that landed them in Winslow. But would it cause him to have difficulty making a three-point turn in a new rental car in a town on a street where he had never been? Of course it would. Would that ‘go toward intent’ (causing a reasonable doubt in Kris’s intent to intentionally harm others)? Of course it would. And would having your nose broken by someone running up alongside your car and punching you in the face through your open driver’s side window cause you to have difficulty deciding what was best to do next? And drive sporadically? All of which was NOT ignored but repeatedly and repeatedly drilled into the jury’s minds.
I’m done here. I’m back talking to Liv in Oslo. “So, what happened next?” Liv says, “He fell backward on December 3, 2012 – at Yuma prison - and broke his neck due to falling back. They left him in his cell to die. He was left for nearly a month. Now he is using a wheelchair and a walker.”
“And when did you see him last?” Liv replies, ”That was in 2013. It was all set up: the permissions were obtained and I had come all the way – from Norway. Everything was arranged beforehand – everything. Then, when I got there, they told me I could not get on the bus: that I could not see him, they had changed their mind. This was at Tucson prison.” So what happened? She continues, ”They said a CO3 had decided it.” (Corrections Officer 3) “So I decided to ask someone else – so I started to walk toward two guards with dogs. They kept telling me to stop, or they’d let the dogs loose, and I hollered back that I was not going to stop and I didn’t care what they did to me, because I was supposed to see my son and I had come from Norway and it was all arranged. Then, they got two ladies who were very nice and they re-considered and said I might see Kris. Then they checked me for metal and said I had to be more covered up than my V-neck shirt, so I went back to my car and put on more clothes, and then they let me in."
“Doesn’t anyone else see him or speak out?” “Well,” says Liv, “The Norwegian consulate – they want to be informed but they don’t want to help. They say, ‘He’s in prison? Then it’s up to the prison.’ But I think it is a violation of his human rights. They could do something, couldn’t they?”
I agree that they could. I have had International Human Rights law and I have sufficient knowledge of the facts to suggest that they could. As a matter of the practicality of international human rights law (i.e. why have it if it won’t work?), as well as simply an effort to bring it into effect, it is the obligation of general governmental institutions – at all levels and in all respects - to involve themselves – precisely because it cannot simply be the case that procedurally ordinary avenues could or would result in addressing these types of wrongs: the wrongdoers are often the very bureaucratic culprits, and are not necessarily in a position, individually or as a group, to change their ‘sick culture’ into one that can secure the very specific international human rights the nation itself pledged to uphold in its treaty signature.
But what about the rest of 2013? All of 2014? All of 2015? And now it is 2016. I think I’m missing some of the story and we’ve already been talking for an hour. Liv continues chatting, time out of context, “He was kept in a cellar for 3 weeks, in solitary, from a March into June.” I then learn that a pastor from the Norwegian Seaman’s Church in San Francisco went to see him during this time. He was chilled, apparently, in more ways than one. Liv says, “He’s not allowed to talk about it - by the Norwegian authorities. . . . because it’s torture: to keep one in pain in the dark. His eyes, you know . . . He was in chains – his hands, his feet.”
She then pauses, “But it was nice they let him see Kris.”