Court Urges Settlement|in Jail Suicide Case

     CINCINNATI (CN) – Police should settle with the woman whose schizophrenic husband killed himself in a Michigan jail, a Sixth Circuit panel urged Wednesday.
     When Zulema Bonner-Turner called 911 on Sept. 26, 2010, her husband, Alphonso Turner, was one day back from a mental hospital.
     Diagnosed with bipolar and schizophrenia, Turner had gotten drunk and stopped taking his medication.
     Bonner-Turner told asked for an ambulance to come to the couple’s home in Ecorse, Mich., because he “having a fit.”
     With authorities finding that Turner was “speaking ‘mumbo jumbo’ and ‘talking kind of crazy,'” according to court records, Turner pleaded with them to take him to the hospital because he was suicidal.
     Officer William Marks instead handcuffed and arrested the man for disturbing the peace.
     During transport to the city jail, Turner banged his head repeatedly on the plexiglass divider in the squad car, which prompted Marks to stop the car, get out and use a stun gun on Turner twice while he was handcuffed in the back seat.
     Police say Turner was very intoxicated on the night of his arrest. After he allegedly spit at police in the processing room, Sgt. William McCaig shoved the man into a wall.
     Turner was placed in a “detox cell” for a “cooling-down period.” He used a shoelace to hang himself there, but the camera in Turner’s cell was covered with dried toilet paper, so officers were too late to intervene.
     Bonner-Turner sought damages for deliberate indifference, use of excessive force and supervisory liability claims.
     Last year a federal judge granted summary judgment the defendants summary judgment on all claims except the excessive-force claim that stemmed from Officer Marks’ use of the Taser.
     A hearing before the appeals court in Ohio on Wednesday, the widow’s attorney, Marcel Benavides, spoke about the standard to determine whether the officers were deliberately indifferent to Turner’s medical needs.
     Though Benavides pushed Wednesday for the standard set forth by the Fourth Amendment, Judge Richard Griffin noted that the attorney’s motion for summary judgment before the lower court relied almost exclusively on the 14th Amendment.
     Benavides responded that he mentioned the Fourth Amendment in a footnote.
     Judge Richard Suhrheinrich told the attorney, “you’re missing the point.”
     “What requires us to go to the Fourth Amendment if a person is legally arrested?” Suhrheinrich asked.
     Benavides pointed to the “ample facts that Turner was suicidal.”
     “We have a call for help,” the attorney said. “He is yelling to take him to the hospital. Every single officer violated his rights.”
     The panel, rounded out by Senior U.S. District Judge William Stafford, sitting by designation from the Northern District of Florida, was equally hard on the city’s attorney, Jamie Janisch.
     Noting that Turner lived two minutes away from the hospital, the court questioned why police took the man to jail.
     “This guy’s just crazy,” Suhrheinrich said. “Why didn’t they just subdue him and take him to the hospital?”
     Janisch replied: “If he is not accepting medical assistance, they can’t take him.”
     Suhrheinrich pressed: “So if they decedent said ‘I’m fine, I can go home,’ they would let him?”
     Janisch responded that the arrest of Turner was reasonable based on the facts available to the officers at the scene.
     Judge Griffin seemed perplexed. “Do we allow crazy people to make decisions?” he asked.
     Janisch concluded by saying that “officers were able to get him under control, but taking a drunk and hysterical man to the hospital is not reasonable.”
     As Benavides approached the lectern to make his rebuttal, Judge Suhrheinrich advised him that “sometimes the best argument is no argument.”
     The attorney continued anyway and concluded by stressing that once the officers had actual knowledge that Turner was suicidal.
     Firefighters on the scene had even marked the case as a suicide attempt, the attorney noted. They had to do something or be held liable for Turner’s death, he said.
     Judges Griffin and Suhrheinrich both recommended that the parties meet with the court’s mediation office and attempt to settle the case.
     No timetable has been set for the court’s decision.

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