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$________ - CIVIL RIGHTS - WRONGFUL DEATH - MUNICIPAL LIABILITY - PRISON CELL SUICIDE - LACK OF NECESSARY SUICIDE TRAINING, POLICIES AND INSTRUCTIONS.

U.S. District Court, Southern District of Conn. (31563)

This was a death action brought by the estate of the 24-year-old male decedent who hung himself after his arrest and while incarcerated in a Town of Southington jail. The plaintiffs contended that the defendant Town of Southington was responsible for the death of the decedent in its failure to provide town police officers with appropriate training and instructions with regard to the proper handling of a suicidal detainee. The plaintiffs further alleged that the individual defendant officers were negligent, upon being informed that the decedent was suicidal, in failing to take actions to safeguard the decedent while in their custody. The decedent’s brother, age 19, who was arrested along with the decedent, asserted claims in his own right, of bystander liability and civil rights violations. The plaintiff estate of the decedent additionally brought suit against the defendant Medstar, Inc., the ambulance company dispatched by the Town of Southington after the decedent’s first in-cell suicide attempt. As against this defendant, the plaintiffs asserted claims of negligence and breach of a third- party beneficiary contract.

The plaintiff was prepared to offer evidence that on October 6, ________, at approximately midnight, the decedent was being restrained by his younger brother. The decedent had threatened to run off and commit suicide. The decedent had a prior history of p 7 3 suicidal ideation. The plaintiffs and their family resided in Southington, Connecticut. On the night in question, the decedent’s mother telephoned the Southington police station. Also present were the decedent’s father and the decedent’s fiance. The decedent’s mother asked the police to come and get the decedent and take him to the hospital because he was suicidal.

Upon arrival, the officer on the scene arrested both the decedent and his brother, on breach of the peace charges, and had them transported to the Southington police station, ignoring pleas to take the decedent to the hospital. The plaintiffs contended that at the time of his arrest, the decedent exhibited all six "red flags" of a suicidal detainee: that he was a white male under the age of 25, slightly intoxicated, agitated and depressed, with a suicidal history.

At the station, no suicide intake or screening was conducted. The two brothers were thrown into jail cells diagonally across from each other. It was discovered that none of the officers involved in the arrest and detention had any jail suicide training whatsoever, although several suicide attempts had occurred at the Southington police station prior to the morning in question.

Additionally, the plaintiff was prepared to present evidence that the department was ________ hours under the statutorily mandated minimum training requirements of the Connecticut Municipal Police Training Council at the time of the incident.

Although the various parties’ versions differed slightly, it was agreed that the decedent initially attempted suicide shortly after having been left in his cell. The plaintiffs’ version was that the decedent was hanging by his shirt from the cell bar for a period of time. The defendants countered that the decedent rolled up his shirt, but had not tied it to the bar at that time.

The evidence indicated that two officers removed his shirt from the cell and departed, leaving him alone in his cell for a second time with his pants, shoes and socks on. There were four small video monitors upstairs which alternated among five cells in the cell block area, which was located on a floor below the dispatch area.

At approximately the same time as the decedent’s shirt was taken away from him, the ambulance company, Medstar, was dispatched to the scene. However, it took Medstar approximately 32 minutes to arrive after the initial call, although the contract with the City called for a 7 minute emergency response time.

The decedent attempted a second suicide several minutes following the first attempt. He hung himself from the cell bar with a long sock. After several minutes he was cut down and caused to sit in an upright position just outside of his cell. He had become unconscious, but was apparently still breathing. Eventually, he turned blue and asphyxiated on his own vomit before any medical assistance was attempted. During this entire period, the decedent’s mother and fiance remained upstairs, but were not told what was occurring. The decedent was eventually removed from the Southington police station by Medstar and pronounced DOA at Bradley Memorial Hospital, which was about one minute away by car, at 1:54 a.m. Members of his family were not informed of the decedent’s death until approximately one hour later.

The estate alleged that the individual police officers violated p 7 3 the decedent’s civil rights, secured under the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, as enforced by 42 U.S.C. Sec.

________. It also brought pendant State claims sounding in false arrest, battery and negligence. Specifically, the plaintiff, through its experts, maintained that the individual defendant officer who arrived on the scene was negligent in failing to transport the decedent directly to the hospital, rather than take him to the police station, and that he falsely arrested both brothers.

The plaintiffs additionally maintained that the officers at the station deviated from acceptable police procedures in failing to undertake a suicide screening of the decedent upon his arrival and in failing to place the decedent on a strict suicide watch while in jail. The plaintiff’s small-jail suicide expert testified that the defendants should have handcuffed the plaintiff to the cell and/or provided "eyeball to body" monitoring. The plaintiff’s expert maintained that the video camera monitoring provided was insufficient under these circumstances. It was also alleged that after the first suicide attempt was made by the decedent, all possible protective measures should have been instituted with increased vigilance.

Additionally, a Monell Count against the Town of Southington was asserted based upon lack of suicide training, regulations and policies, and inadequate investigation of the subject incident, evidencing a policy of deliberate indifference constituting the moving force behind the violation of the decedent’s constitutional rights.

The plaintiff’s psychiatric expert testified that the decedent’s deleterious mental state was heightened by the manner in which he was manhandled by the defendant police officers and thrown in a jail cell, serving to validate his immediate sense of worthlessness and heighten his determination to take his own life.

The defendants Town of Southington and individual police officers maintained that the officer was justified in arresting the plaintiffs based upon the applicable State Domestic violence statute. The defendants further contended that the decedent was sufficiently monitored via video camera and that the decedent’s own affirmative action in hanging himself was a superseding, intervening cause of his death.

The police defendants additionally maintained that they acted promptly and properly in notifying Medstar after the initial suicide attempt and that Medstar’s negligence in failing to timely respond to the emergency call caused, or contributed to the death of the decedent.

The decedent’s brother, who witnessed the decedent’s suicide attempts, asserted claims against the Town of Southington and its individual officers, alleging bystander liability, false arrest and violation of his rights as secured under the Fourth Amendment and enforced by 42 U.S.C. Sec. ________. The plaintiff’s treating psychologist testified that this plaintiff continues to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from the ordeal of the arrest and watching his older brother die, manifesting itself in nightmares, weight gain, depression and fear of the police.

The estate’s claim against the defendant Medstar was grounded in p 7 3 theories of negligence and breach of a third-party beneficiary contract. The plaintiff alleged that Medstar unduly delayed in arriving on the scene after being called by the police, in specific contravention of Medstar’s contractual agreement with the Town to respond within seven minutes.

On the issue of damages, the plaintiff’s expert psychiatrist as well as friends and family offered testimony as to the decedent’s potential as a productive, contributing member of society. The plaintiff was prepared to argue, through the psychiatric expert, that notwithstanding his psychiatric history, the decedent had achieved a great deal in his short adult lifetime and had shown great promise. The testimony in this regard established that the decedent was engaged to be married, was in the process of studying for his high school equivalency test, had worked for the Department of Mental Retardation Services, had received his certification in scuba diving, had worked as a welder and had articulated specific goals of becoming an underwater welder.

The case settled following a day-long mediation session with the parties agreeing that the Town of Southington would pay the estate $________ and the plaintiff brother $________. The defendant Medstar agreed to pay $________ in settlement.