In July, 2013, Karen Young filed a civil rights or Section 1983 lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri, Springfield Division, against the Texas County Commission, the Texas County Sheriff’s Department, and the various supervisors and jailers at the Texas County Jail for the death of her husband, James Young. The lawsuit alleged that the defendants failed to provide adequate psychiatric treatment and emergency medical assistance to Mr. Young, who committed suicide by overdosing on his prescription medications. The lawsuit also alleged that the Commission, the Sheriff’s Department, and the jail administrator failed to properly train and supervise the jail employees in suicide detection, prevention and response.
James Young was being processed at the jail in Houston, Texas County, Missouri, for a transfer to one of the area prisons. A convicted felon, Mr. Young was a repeat offender for burglary. He was incarcerated this time for violating his parole with another burglary. The jailers provided Mr. Young his prescription medications during the detainment. He suffered from several conditions, including depression and bipolar disorder, for which he took the pills.
On August 20, 2010, Karen Young received a 9-page suicide note from Mr. Young. The note requested his wife and daughters to “forgive me for taking my life from you and the girls.” It also included a “Last Will and Testament” detailing how the decedent wanted his few personal belongings distributed. Upon receipt, Mrs. Young drove to the jail and hand-delivered the note to the jailers.
At 6:00 a.m. on September 2, 2010, the jailers found Mr. Young in his cell unresponsive to yelling and physical stimulus. They telephoned the jail administrator who told them not to alert emergency services without her. It was not until 8:10 a.m. that an ambulance was finally requested and 8:23 a.m. when the paramedics arrived. Mr. Young could not be revived and was pronounced dead at the Texas County Memorial Hospital later that afternoon. The medical examiner found high levels of the prescription medications in his system and concluded that the cause of death was suicide.
Young’s attorney, Jose M. Bautista of Bautista Allen LLC , added that Mr. Young was not placed on suicide watch or given any special attention even after the suicide note was delivered to the jail. The jail did not have any procedures for suicide detection, prevention and response and did not train the jailers in those matters or in basic emergency medical treatment. The jail also did not have procedures requiring the jailers to ensure that the detainees actually swallowed their pills as they were disbursed, which allowed Mr. Young to hoard the pills.
The Court ultimately entered judgment in favor of plaintiff and ordered defendants to pay her $751,537.14. “Section 1983 lawsuits are complex, time-consuming and notoriously difficult to win. We were able to successfully resolve this case because we spent a lot of resources preparing and thinking through the potential issues even before filing,” said Bautista’s law partner, Daniel L. Allen. “Hopefully, the other county jails in the state of Missouri take notice that it has a responsibility to its detainees and inmates to provide access to medical care, both physical and mental.”