Police say Ashley Ellis, 23, of Castleton, died in the state prison in St. Albans six weeks ago, about a day after she started serving a sentence for a probation violation.
She reportedly weighed only 87 pounds because she suffered from the eating disorder anorexia.
The state police investigation is not yet complete but Tuesday the state medical examiner ruled the cause of death as hypokalemic induced cardiac arrhythmia due to anorexia/bulimia nervosa and denial of access to medication.
She reportedly was supposed to be taking prescribed Potassium to treat her anorexia.
"Under no circumstance does a corrections employee, DOC employee, dispense medication or care to an offender," Vt. Corrections Commissioner Andy Pallito said.
Pallito says a private contracted health company Prison Health Services Incorporated from Tennessee is responsible for providing 100 percent of all health services including medications to Vermont inmates. Pallito says he has seen no evidence so far that DOC employees were involved in any way in treating Ellis or providing her medications.
Reporter Brian Joyce: Are you confident the department was in no way responsible for what happened to this young woman regarding her death?
Pallito: You know the investigation will yield things, I'm sure, that I don't know about. But standing here today I'm pretty confident that the Department of Corrections followed through on the information and passed that information along that we were supposed to.
Vt. Law School Professor and legal expert Cheryl Hanna said, "After reading the medical report on the cause of death, it suggests that there could be financial liability either on behalf of the company that was contracted to provide medical services at the prison. Or the state itself, depending on how the facts unravel in this case. The state itself could be liable for her death."
Hanna says criminal charges are also possible-- depending on the outcome of the police investigation.
State police say they expect to complete their investigation by the end of the week and turn over their findings to the Franklin County prosecutor. He will determine whether any criminal charges are warranted in this case.
The corrections department says under its contract with Prison Health Services, the state is indemnified against any lawsuits. But Hanna says despite any contractual arrangement, it's possible a court could find that the state shares in the financial liability.
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