Politics & Government

Kentucky inmate found dead mouse in soup

An inmate at Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex at West Liberty found a dead mouse in his soup May 1, leading to an investigation by corrections officials, according to state prison incident reports.

State Rep. Brent Yonts, D-Greenville, characterized the incident as the latest problem with Philadelphia-based Aramark Correctional Services, which has a $12 million contract with the state to provide prison food.

"It indicates what I call malpractice of their job," Yonts said.

But Aramark spokeswoman Sarah Jarvis said the company provides good service to the state.

"We have strong quality-assurance processes that ensure the high quality and safety of the meals we serve, and this has been consistently verified by the high scores we receive on independent county and industry health inspections," Jarvis said in a statement. Those inspection scores average close to 100 percent, she said.

The incident occurred about 11 a.m. May 1, according to prison reports.

In a written grievance, inmate Christopher Branum said that after eating some of his soup, he saw "what appeared to be a mouse leg."

"I touched it with my spork (a combination spoon and fork), and it was a cooked mouse," Branum said in the grievance.

Corrections officer Ronald Cantrell wrote in a report that Branum called for him and showed him the mouse 30 to 45 seconds after Cantrell served Branum lunch in his cell.

"The mouse was saturated as though it had been in the soup for some time or cooked in it. The soup was still lukewarm," Corrections Capt. Paul Fugate wrote in a report.

Branum, who is serving a 10-year sentence for first-degree robbery, received the prison incident documents through an open records request, said Wade McNabb, a paralegal for Spedding Law Office in Lexington.

Branum gave McNabb permission to share the documents with the Herald-Leader.

The prison report on the incident included a photograph of the mouse.

All of the soup made that day was thrown out, and the inmates were served other food, according to the incident report compiled by Fugate.

Aramark food service director Jody Sammons, in a May 12 memo, said Sammons had conducted an investigation, and "it appears the mouse was isolated to the bowl of soup in which it was found."

"It was not likely that a mouse was cooked in that batch of soup," Sammons' memo said.

Some inmates were immediately concerned that they would be sick after eating the soup, and they were seen by medical personnel, an incident report said.

Prison medical officials also contacted a Department of Corrections physician within an hour. The physician said "the mouse would not make them sick this soon," according to the incident report.

Jennifer Brislin, a spokeswoman for the Justice & Public Safety Cabinet said the staff addressed the problem immediately.

"The product was pulled and discarded, and an alternative served. Medical services were made available to all inmates. After those initial actions, Warden (Gary) Beckstrom took steps to increase pest control and monitor sanitation to ensure there is no reoccurrence of this event," Brislin said.

Yonts said he would be contacting corrections officials Friday to see what action they have taken.

In January, Yonts asked Attorney General Jack Conway to investigate possible Aramark violations of its contract.

Yonts, D-Greenville, said Aramark violated the contract last year by refusing to provide cost-related records to state auditors conducting an investigation of Aramark's contract to provide food service to inmates at Kentucky's 13 prisons.

In a Feb. 10 letter to Yonts, obtained by the Herald-Leader through the state's Open Records Law, Conway said that the Finance and Administration Cabinet found that Aramark was not in breach of the contract and that Conway saw no need for a separate investigation.

But Conway and state Auditor Crit Luallen want a state regulation changed to clarify that state officials — not the contractor — should determine which records are pertinent, Allison Martin, a spokeswoman for Conway, said Thursday.