Goshen News, Goshen, IN

Local News

March 1, 2014

Mother sues state for son's death

A Middlebury woman is suing state officials, the Department of Correction and staff at Westville Correctional Facility in the wake of her son’s death two years ago at Westville.

Alice Blessing filed her lawsuit this week in U.S. District Court in South Bend. Court documents indicate that her son, Steven Blessing, was found hanging in his holding cell Feb. 26, 2012. Among the multiple defendants listed in the lawsuit is Westville Superintendent Mark Levenhagen.

Via the lawsuit, Alice Blessing alleges her son was a known risk for committing suicide, and also that his “history of psychological disorders was ignored by all relevant personnel.” According to court documents, Steven Blessing was also in fear of other inmates at Westville.

Blessing was serving time in the DOC after being sentenced in Elkhart County on a battery charge. Prior to his arrival at Westville, he had been housed at Indiana State Prison in Michigan City. Blessing had previously given information to law enforcement officials about certain inmates housed at the prison. Those inmates threatened to harm Blessing, who requested protective custody.

In lieu of that custody, the lawsuit reads, Blessing was transferred to Westville Jan. 4, 2012. He was initially placed in segregation. A few days later, Blessing was told he was being moved to another dorm — one occupied by associates of the people Blessing had informed on to police, according to the lawsuit.

“In desperation, Steven assaulted two prison guards in order to be placed in segregation and avoid those who intended to brutally murder him,” court documents read. Blessing was placed in segregation Jan. 9, 2012.

Around this time, according to the lawsuit, Westville officials and staff decided to transfer Blessing to a higher-security location. Alice Blessing alleges that this information was kept from her son, who was never made aware of the fact that he would be placed anywhere other than the dorm he’d fought to avoid. Blessing’s lawsuit reads that this was done to make an example of Steven and to show that “his attempt to manipulate his housing situation would backfire on him.”

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Three Goshen elementary schools — Chandler, Chamberlain and West Goshen — are providing free meals to all students during the school year as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Community Eligibility Provision of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Nearly 80 percent of students at Chandler, 89 percent of students at Chamberlain and 78 percent of students at West Goshen already qualify for free or reduced-price lunches based on their family income. How do you feel about the new lunch program?

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