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Monday, May 20, 2024 | Back issues
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Judge Greenlights Claims Over Jail Cell Telephones

MARSHALL, Texas (CN) - Telecoms that maintain phones in Harrison County Jail cells may be liable to the family of an inmate who hanged himself with a phone cord, a federal judge ruled.

Julius Maloy entered Harrison County Jail in March 2009 as a pretrial detainee, according to the complaint.

Though an initial screening revealed that Maloy needed antidepressants and had a history of attempting suicide, jail officials did not order a mental-health evaluation or put the detainee on suicide watch, his family claims. An intake form allegedly stated that Maloy "heard voices that other people did not hear."

Then, although Maloy was threatening to kill himself, jail officials did not give the detainee his medication as prescribed and transferred him to a single-person cell with a corded telephone, according to the complaint.

Left alone in the cell, Maloy allegedly used the cord to hang himself. His widow Waltrina Mukes-Maloy filed a federal complaint along with a representative for Maloy's three children, and Maloy's parents, Julius Maloy Sr. and Lela Mae Maloy.

"Sadly, the Harrison County Jail is a deathtrap for inmates who suffer from mental illness, suicidal tendencies or other serious medical conditions," the second amended complaint states.

The defendants include several jail officials, AGM Telecom, Public Communication Service and Global Tel Link.

Maloy's family says the jail puts phones in the isolation cells despite mounting cases of suicide.

"The Texas Commission on Jail Standards published a report in 2004 that analyzed 121 deaths by suicide in Texas County jails from 1999 through 2003," according to the complaint. "This report was published to the Texas Legislature and its results were well known to Harrison County policymakers in charge of funding and operating the jail, including but not limited to Sheriff William T. McCool."

"Of the 121 suicides studied, all but 9 were committed by hanging," the family says. "According to the report, the method of suicide used almost exclusively in county jails is asphyxiation by hanging.

"Moreover, the vast majority of these suicides occurred in single person cells rather than multiple occupancy cells.

"Additionally, several articles have been published by well-recognized jail and suicide prevention experts that specifically discuss the dangers of phones with phone cords in jails to detainees or inmates with suicidal tendencies."

U.S. District Judge Rodney Gilstrap refused Thursday to dismiss product liability claims against the telecom defendants.

Though non-manufacturing sellers are not generally liable for harm caused by a product, the judge said the Maloys may be able to show that the seller "actually knew of a defect to the product at the time the seller supplied the product and harm resulted from the defect."

The family has two weeks to file a third amended complaint.

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