Citing medical records, See’s family weighs lawsuit

Kelly Flanagan awoke on Nov. 24 at 3:45 a.m. to a call from the New Haven Police Department: her brother, Samuel See, had died in jail.

Nearly eight weeks later, See’s family has retained legal counsel and is considering a wrongful death lawsuit against authorities involved in See’s arrest, treatment at an area hospital and incarceration, Flanagan told the News Thursday. That revelation comes on the heels of last Monday’s conclusion of a toxicology report certifying See’s cause of death as a meth-induced heart attack.

“It’s just so cloudy,” Flanagan said of the order of events that concluded with the death of her 34-year-old brother, an assistant professor of English and American Studies at Yale.

Baffling in particular, she said, are medical records from See’s treatment at Yale-New Haven Hospital just 10 hours before he died in jail, reportedly from acute methamphetamine intoxication.

“He is oriented to person, place, and time. Vital signs are normal. He appears well-developed and well-nourished. He is active and cooperative. No distress,” reads a hospital write-up that See’s family provided to the News. See’s blood pressure, blood oxygen saturation and pulse were all reported normal.

See was treated at the hospital for a cut above his left eye sustained during his arrest on Nov. 23, a Saturday. Flanagan, who lives in Bakersfield, California, had called the police to her brother’s home to separate him from his husband, Sunder Ganglani, a former student at the Yale School of Drama. The two men had mutual protective orders against each other, the result of a falling out in September 2013 after their marriage in May.

Ganglani said he continued to live with See at 324 St. John Street through the autumn of 2013. Flanagan said otherwise, calling the couple’s interactions “intermittent” and saying her brother had called the police on Ganglani when he returned to the house on Friday, Nov. 22. After leaving voluntarily, Ganglani came back to See’s house on Saturday, Flanagan said, at which point she called the police.

When police arrived at See’s home, they verified the protective orders and moved to arrest both men for violating the directives designed to keep them apart. See resisted arrest and threatened police on the scene — yelling “I will kill you … I will destroy you” — according to statements from the New Haven Police Department. See “fell,” according to the NHPD, and sustained a cut above his left eye. Ganglani said he did not hear his husband threaten the police. He said See yelled “police brutality” as four officers threw him, handcuffed, against his bedroom wall, bloodying his face.

Following treatment at Yale-New Haven Hospital for his cut, See was detained in NHPD lock-up at 1 Union Avenue, a detention facility administered by state judicial marshals. He was found unresponsive in his cell shortly after 6 a.m. the next morning, Sunday Nov. 24.

Spokespeople from the NHPD and the state judicial branch declined comment Friday. Both the police department and the state are conducting internal investigations into the circumstances of See’s death — including a review of video recordings from the detention facility. A spokesperson for the state Attorney General’s office declined comment on a potential wrongful death claim.

See’s cause of death is listed as “acute methamphetamine and amphetamine intoxication with recent myocardial infarct,” according to the toxicology report concluded on Monday. The designation of acute intoxication suggests that drugs were traceable in the system of the deceased person at the time of death, according to Chief State Medical Examiner James Gill, who did not refer specifically to See’s case but offered general comment on how methamphetamines can constrict blood flow and arrest the beating of the heart.

Recent “myocardial infarct,” or heart attack, “means there’s evidence of damage to the heart that happened in the order of days before the death,” Gill added. Drug abuse can stretch back for months prior to the death, he said, contributing to long-term tissue damage that may suddenly cause “an irregular rhythm and death” — often set off by stress or acute drug intake. The toxicology report cannot determine the precise quantity of drugs consumed, Gill said, nor can it detect the manner of consumption. Gill said meth can be injected, smoked, swallowed or snorted.

The results of an independent autopsy See’s family requested are forthcoming, Flanagan said.

If See were under the influence of drugs when he received medical treatment 10 hours before his death, the effects of those substances did not reveal themselves in routine tests undergone at the hospital — in examinations of his cardiovascular, pulmonary and neurological functions all detailed on documents from See’s medical exam at Yale-New Haven Hospital.

The hospital write-up states that See had a normal heart rate and regular breathing rhythms — and that his eyes, mouth, nose, neck and abdominal showed no signs of distress — concluding: “His behavior is normal.” No drug test was administered, according to the documents.

“I talked to him up until the police came. I talked to him in the ambulance. He was calm,” Flanagan said. “I know my brother. He can be dramatic. But he wasn’t at all dramatic that day. He was calming me down when he was in the ambulance.”

Once he was transported to the detention facility, he spoke on the phone with his mother until almost 10 p.m., Flanagan said, the record of which the family has maintained on a cell phone. After that phone conversation, See’s family heard nothing of him until 6 a.m., when officials from the police department called Flanagan to tell her See had been found lifeless in his cell.

“They said they didn’t know the last time he was alive,” Flanagan said, refuting comment from the state judicial branch that marshals check up on inmates every 15 minutes. “If he did overdose, it’s on the marshals.”

A professor at the Yale School of Medicine declined comment due to a potential conflict of interest stemming from See’s treatment at Yale-New Haven Hospital. Werner U. Spitz, former chief medical examiner in Detroit, said there seemed to be a “bizarre” mismatch between the toxicology report and the events preceding See’s death in custody. Spitz said he has conducted more than 150 autopsies for deaths in police custody.

“Methamphetamine is a strong stimulant, which increases the blood pressure, increases the blood flow, increases breathing. It increases the pulse. It increases the work that the heart has to perform,” Spitz said. If See had been on drugs at the time of his arrest, Spitz added, the stimulants would have dissipated by 6 a.m. the next morning, as meth has a half-life of between six and 15 hours.

“If he died of acute intoxication, he would have died much closer to the time of the arrest,” Spitz said. “He died of something else: that something else might have been aggravated by an existing heart disease or by leftover meth, but I wouldn’t have written a death certificate like that. I would have first inquired about what really went on in jail.”

Lewis S. Nelson, a toxicologist at the New York University School of Medicine, said there are other potential explanations: that See had the drugs in his pocket and took them in jail or that the meth was “wrapped in his intestines and then it leaked after he was put in jail.”

The drugs could also have persisted in See’s blood stream even after the effects of the stimulant wore off, Nelson said, contributing to heart damage.

“Most wouldn’t call that acute intoxication,” Nelson said, but he said it was hard to know more without seeing what See looked like at the time of death.

Ganglani — who was kept in a separate cell 15 feet from See — said his husband went unfed in jail. He said that See was a vegetarian, and only meat was offered to him. His husband asked “kindly and incessantly” for juice and was “ignored repeatedly,” Ganglani said.

He added that marshals only interact with inmates every four to six hours when they distribute food. State judicial branch spokesperson Rhonda Stearley-Hebert told the News in an email after See’s death that marshals check on inmates “at least every 15 minutes.”  Those rounds are cursory and do not involve officials actually verifying that inmates are alive, Ganglani alleged.

Flanagan did not deny that her brother used drugs. See had tested positive for drugs during a stay at the hospital the weekend before his death, she said.

“My brother wasn’t a saint, but he was by no means an addict or a druggie,” she said.

As for online evidence suggesting that See worked as a male escort, Flanagan said messages advertising her brother’s sexual services could not have been written by him.

“I saw the wording, and that’s not him. It’s not the way he speaks,” Flanagan said of a now-disabled escort profile and Twitter and Facebook pages under the name “Ryan Cochran” that listed See’s home address and phone number, displayed lewd images and stated: “I’m a professional, well-educated, sexually limitless escort working out of New Haven.” Flanagan said she thinks others created the alias without her brother’s knowledge.

Still, Flanagan said she had been worried about her brother — and had bought him a one-way ticket home to California on Nov. 25, the Monday following his death. She wanted to check in with him after a turbulent 10 months in New Haven.

See learned that he had contracted HIV in January, Flanagan said, and went on medical leave from Yale, unable to “focus because all he could think about was that he was dying.” He said he was bipolar  and began having hallucinations, she added. English Professor Katie Trumpener said she learned in April that See had entered a mental hospital.

When Trumpener saw See in September, he told her his stay in the psych ward had been “excruciating” but that he was doing better — that hallucinations he had been having as a byproduct of “a small stroke” had stopped. He invited her over for tea to meet his husband, she said.

But See was worried about his own mental state, concerned that he was “going to injure Sunder in his sleep, like having a post-traumatic stress dream,” Trumpener said. A correspondence with See in mid-October, by which time See was on unpaid leave from Yale, left Trumpener wondering about her colleague’s ability to “tell what was real and what wasn’t.”

“Oh God, I miss Sam,” concluded Trumpener, expressing what more than a dozen colleagues and friends have reiterated: that See was a gifted scholar and compassionate teacher who displayed a depth of understanding in his relationships with others.

“There was a quality of contact with Sam that was striking and beautiful,” said Dominika Laster, the director of undergraduate studies for the Theater Studies department. See’s very vulnerabilities made him radically accepting of those around him, Trumpener said.

Flanagan said she has come to accept her brother’s death; she flew to Hartford to have him cremated following the autopsy at the end of December. But the pieces still do not add up in her mind. She, along with See’s two brothers and parents, are looking for more answers.

“Things are too suspicious for me to just let that be that,” Flanagan said. “We have to find out if we have grounds for a lawsuit. I imagine we do.”

Yale Law School Professor David Rosen LAW ‘69 is representing See’s family. He declined comment on the nature of a potential lawsuit, saying only that he is helping See’s family “find out whatever we can about Sam’s death.”

A remembrance for See is scheduled for Jan. 25 in Battell Chapel.

 Marek Ramilo contributed reporting

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