A March 7, 2016 article in the Denver Post reported that The U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP) reached a settlement with the family of an inmate for $175,000 after he was found to have used his bedsheet to hang himself. This incident occurred in 2013 at the “Supermax” US Prison in Florence, Colorado, which the BOP lists as its highest security prison. Apparently staff placed the inmate in solitary confinement, which precipitated the suicide. The report indicated that Robert Knott was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1989, and had attempted to commit suicide in 1992 at the facility.
These instances of inmate suicide have been far too common within correctional facilities. The US Supreme Court has consistently stated that correctional facilities are responsible to provide adequate medical care to prisoners, many of which are suffering from mental illness. The majority of these federal cases center of the violation of 8th Amendment rights under the US Constitution, relating to cruel and unusual punishment. A point in many of these cases applied to the facility and/or staff exhibiting “deliberate indifference”. In the 1976 Estelle vs Gamble case, it was first established that suits against correctional facilities were possible when proven that staff exhibited deliberate indifference. Further, in a 1994 case of Farmer vs Brennan, the legal standard was clarified that inmates must prove the staff was aware of the risk toward the prisoner's safety and “recklessly and consciously” disregarded it.
In a recent story in the Denver Post, the repeated mistakes of the Denver Sheriff Department's correctional staff were highlighted. A wave of incidents showed that officers were not making their proper rounds to check on inmate safety when locked in their jail cells.
- It was determined that an inmate found hanging had committed the suicide (3) hours earlier. The deputy on duty was suspended for 10 days after it was revealed that he was only partially doing his safety checks. It was indicated in his reprimand that he was putting the city in positions of problematic liability.
- The family of Emily Rice received a whopping $7 million when she was found dead in her cell. Again, a situation where correctional officers were not making their rounds to check on the inmates. .
- Shortly after additional similar incidents occurred, the Sheriff Department brought in two firms to conduct audit evaluations; the findings in the reports were extremely critical of the lack of operational standards in place.
Inmate rights under the US 14th Amendment have also been brought into these types of cases. The law relates to those in enforcement positions exercising proper “due process”. As it applies in these cases, through deliberate or reckless indifference, a death occurred. In order to prove deliberate indifference it is not only necessary to prove negligence, but also that the party was aware of the risks involved.
In situations where a loved one dies as a result of someone else's negligence or indifference, it can be devastating. At this difficult time, it is important to bring the party (or parties) to justice. Often these cases can be difficult to prove based on the complexity of the laws, which is why having legal expertise to prepare your case is necessary. The Law Firm of Jeremy Rosenthal has been pursuing compensation for Colorado families in wrongful death related cases for many years, and is available to discuss your case.