William “Bill” Coleman began a hunger strike in September 2007 to protest his innocence after the Connecticut Court of Appeals affirmed his 2005 convictions for sexual assaulting his estranged wife and related charges. Coleman’s hunger strike is believed to be the longest in U.S. history by a prisoner.
Coleman and his wife entered the United States in the late 1980s as British citizens. She became a U.S. citizen and he was in the country on a green card. They married in 1994. Coleman was then able to legally remain in the U.S. because of his wife’s U.S. citizenship.
The couple separated and got back together several times. After Coleman’s wife became involved with another man, in the fall of 2002 he told her he was going to file for sole custody of their two children and return to England. At the time Coleman’s children were living with him full-time. Coleman filed the custody papers in Waterbury County, Connecticut in late September 2002.
Four days after Coleman filed the custody papers his wife went to the police, filed a complaint, and he was arrested and charged with Trespass (living in the family home), Larceny (using his wife’s ATM card) and Threatening Behavior (for protesting his arrest). After Coleman was released on bail his wife complained to the police for the first time that he had raped her shortly before he filed for custody. No medical examination of her was conducted and there was no police investigation into her allegation. Coleman’s subsequent charge of sexual assault in a spousal relationship was based solely on his wife’s accusation. Coleman claimed his wife fabricated the rape claim as a lever to ensure she would get custody of their children.
The Coleman’s were divorced in August 2004. To help resolve the contested child custody a family relations counselor investigated the Coleman’s for 15 months. Her report to the judge stated in part: “The alleged sexual assault remains a he-said, she-said situation, as Ms. Coleman did not go for a medical exam subsequent to the alleged abuse. It remains difficult to ascertain which client is actually telling the truth.” The judge expressed similar skepticism about the truthfulness of the vague allegations by Coleman’s wife.
Coleman passed a lie detector test that the assault never happened – but it wasn’t admissible as evidence during his February 2005 trial. He also passed a psycho-sexual test administered by Dr. Joseph J .Plaud, but the findings were not used in Coleman’s defense by his lawyer. The case against Coleman, 45, began and ended with his wife’s accusation. Waterbury police officers testified that they did not conduct any investigation into the rape allegation and there was no medical examination. Nevertheless, after deliberating four days the six-person jury convicted Coleman of sexual assault in a spousal relationship and several related charges.
During Coleman’s sentencing hearing he accused his wife of fabricating the charge and the prosecutors of pursuing his case to prevent a lawsuit for his false arrest, “The system does not work,” he said. “It fails the innocent and, in cases like this, it fails the children.” The judge sentenced him to 15 years in prison with the sentence suspended after eight years. His maximum discharge date was December 30, 2012.
Two weeks after the Connecticut Court of Appeals affirmed Coleman’s convictions in September 2007, he began a hunger strike to protest his innocence and what he believed was Connecticut’s broken and corrupt criminal legal process that can be manipulated to serve the interests of a civil litigant – such as his wife did in their custody dispute.
In January 2008 the Connecticut Department of Corrections obtained a temporary injunction to force feed Coleman if they deemed it necessary for medical reasons. The Connecticut ACLU argued on Coleman’s behalf that as a competent person he has the right to refuse food as a form of exercising his first amendment right to political speech. During the hearing Coleman testified he wouldn’t begin eating again, saying, “I’m not going to wait for the state of Connecticut to dole out truth and justice.” The judge that granted the temporary injunction told Coleman his hunger strike wouldn’t draw “anymore attention than you’ve already received to date.”
Coleman maintained his strength by drinking water, juice, and some milk. However, in September 2008 on the one-year anniversary of beginning his protest Coleman stopped taking any nutrition, including water. The DOC responded by administrating a saline drip solution twice a week. During the first thirteen months of Coleman’s protest he lost half his body weight – going from 250 to 128 pounds.
Without notice, on October 22, 2008 the DOC administered Coleman’s first forced feeding. DOC employees forcibly strapped Coleman’s arms and legs to a table and shoved a tube down his nasal passage into his stomach. Surveillance cameras were turned off during the procedure which was carried out incorrectly and the tube “kinked.” Coleman described it as the “worst pain of his life” that was “ten times worse than getting a tooth pulled without a sedative.” The tube was withdrawn and a second tube was inserted. Afterwards he sneezed up blood. He received no medical treatment after the episode.
In February 2009 a hearing was held to determine if the DOC would be granted a permanent injunction. Coleman read a “Statement of Protest” into the record that stated in part:
“I, Bill Coleman, in September 2007, stopped eating solid food as a form of protest. I am protesting a broken judicial system that is incapable of providing justice as well as protesting the State of Connecticut assisting in the abuse of my children. The system has failed my children and me and I have communicated this in several forums, including in court. My case in not an isolated incident; countless others have been subjected to the injustice of the judicial system. Innocent people do not belong in prison and I now just want to be left alone to protest.”
A permanent injunction was granted in May 2009 allowing the DOC to force feed Coleman at its discretion.
Coleman appealed and the Connecticut Supreme Court issued its unanimous (7-0) 29-page ruling on March 13, 2013 affirming the granting of the permanent injunction to the DOC allowing the forcible administration of artificial nutrition and hydration to Coleman. In Commissioner Of Correction v. William B. Coleman, No. SC18721 (CT Sup Ct, 3-13-2013) the Court specifically denied Coleman’s three claims, ruling: The permanent injunction does not violate his state common-law right to bodily integrity; The permanent injunction does not violate his first amendment right to free speech and his fourteenth amendment privacy or liberty interests in being free from unwanted medical treatment under the United States constitution; and the permanent injunction is not prohibited by international law.
So Coleman continues his hunger strike that began more than 5-1/2 years ago, and the Connecticut DOC can forcibly feed him whenever it deems it necessary.
The Connecticut Supreme Court’s ruling overshadowed another significant issue: Coleman remains imprisoned even though his sentence expired on December 30, 2012. Based on Coleman’s insistence he is innocent and his refusal to agree to register as a sex offender upon his release, an arrest warrant was issued for him that took effect upon expiration of his sentence. Coleman remained in the custody of the Connecticut DOC even though as a non-U.S. citizen felon he was scheduled to be released directly to the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Massachusetts for deportation proceedings to England. Coleman is currently scheduled to be arraigned on July 25, 2013 on the charge of refusing to register as a sex offender. Deportation proceedings cannot begin until the State of Massachusetts releases Coleman to the federal ICE.
Coleman’s federal habeas corpus petition was dismissed without prejudice in June 2012 so he could return to state court and exhaust his actual innocence claim and his claims related to constancy of accusation testimony at trial.
Although he has completed his prison sentence for his 2005 convictions and he hasn’t been formally charged with refusing to register as a sex offender, the 52-year-old Coleman is currently incarcerated on an arrest warrant at the MacDougall-Walker prison in Suffield, Connecticut. He can be written at:
William Coleman 305106
1153 East Street, South
Suffield, CT 06080
A website with information about William Coleman’s case is, http://billcolemaninnocentmanwrongfullyconvicted.webs.com
Click here to read “William Coleman Starves Claiming Innocence of Raping Wife” published in Justice Denied Issue 42.
Click here to read
William Coleman’s “Statement of Protest” that he read during his testimony on February 10, 2009.