In Lawsuit Over 18-Year-Old’s Jailhouse Suicide, Seventh Circuit Upholds Summary Judgment for Defendants
Here’s a pretty extreme version of any parent’s worst nightmare: You secure permission for your 18-year-old child to leave the state mental hospital where he’s a patient so that he can attend a family funeral. While he’s out of the hospital, you somehow become separated from him. The next thing you hear, he’s been arrested for theft and incarcerated. About a month later, while still locked up in the county jail, he hangs himself from the bars on his cell window, using a bed sheet.
This is what happened to Cathy Minix, whose son Gregory Zick committed suicide in 2003 while incarcerated at the St. Joseph County Jail in Indiana. Zick had a history of suicidal tendencies, evidenced by laceration scars on his wrists and neck; indeed, when he arrived at the county jail he had most recently attempted suicide just a month before. Jail officials arranged for him to continue receiving his prescription psychiatric medications, and placed him on suicide watch. Over the next few weeks Zick was moved on and off suicide watch (in part, it seems, because he himself denied having suicidal tendencies when speaking to jail mental health professionals, although one of the issues in the lawsuit was whether these professionals were actually qualified — one, for instance, did not have a degree in psychology or psychiatry. See PDF p. 12). At the time of his suicide, he was being held in disciplinary segregation, because he “had been charged with attempted suicide and other violations” (PDF p. 3, my emphasis). Specifically, according to this news report, Zick was being held in lockdown for removing the blade from his razor.
Minix filed a federal lawsuit against the county and numerous jail officials, alleging that they were deliberately indifferent to her son’s suicidal history, in violation of his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights as well as various rights under Indiana state law. The Seventh Circuit recently upheld the district court’s grants of summary judgment as to all defendants but the county sheriff (who settled separately with Minix for $75,000). Some defendants lacked knowledge of Zick’s suicidal tendencies altogether, others knew he was suicidal and may have acted negligently, but none, according to the Seventh Circuit, met the constitutional benchmark of “deliberate indifference.” Nor, according to the Seventh Circuit, did Minix establish a pattern or policy of inadequate suicide prevention measures by the company hired to run the jail’s mental health services.
Full docket info: Minix v. Canarecci, Nos. 09-2001 & 09-2817, 7th Cir., Feb. 26, 2010.