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Friday, June 21, 2024 | Back issues
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Mom Says Docs Ignored Suicide Risks

CHICAGO (CN) - State-employed doctors failed to prevent a boy from hanging himself in juvenile detention, though there had been more than 2,900 similar suicide attempts in the previous 8 years, the dead boy's mother claims in court.

Cheryl Miller sued Drs. Jolene Harbaugh, Jennifer Jaworski and Victor Kersey, on behalf of her deceased son Jamal Miller, in Cook County Court.

Harbaugh is a clinical psychologist employed by the Illinois Youth Center at St. Charles, Ill.

Jaworski and Kersey work as psychologists for the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice.

Kersey is clinical director of the Alternative Behavior Treatment Center at Kewanee.

Miller sued all of them in their individual capacities.

The state is not named as a defendant.

In 2009, her 16-year-old son Jamal was put into juvenile detention.

Despite Jamal's history of suicide attempts, Dr. Kersey "evaluated Jamal's primary problem as not mental health issues but rather 'criminal thinking,' and determined that Jamal had a 'lack of immediate mental health needs or concerns,' concluding that in his clinical opinion Jamal was 'not appropriately placed in Kewaunee Special Treatment as [he] does not require intensive mental health treatment," according to the complaint.

Miller says Jamal was transferred from the Kewanee center to the Illinois Youth Center at St. Charles, where he was placed in a cell by himself.

"During the early morning hours of September 1, 2009, Jamal tore his bedding and used the bedding and some clothing to tie a noose to the top metal bar of his bunk bed. He then committed suicide by hanging himself from the top bar on the bunk bed," his mother says.

She claims that "from 2001 prior to Jamal Miller's death on September 1, 2009, there were 2,929 total suicide attempts at the Illinois Youth Center at St. Charles. ...

"From 2001 up to Jamal Miller's suicide death on September 1, 2009, six youths had committed suicide while in custody at various Illinois Youth Centers, including one at the St. Charles facility where Jamal was confined.

"Three of those suicides, including one at St. Charles, were committed by the youth hanging him or herself from the top of the same type of metal frame bunk bed from which Jamal hung himself," the complaint states.

Miller claims that "it was well known inside IDJJ, including by defendants Jaworski, Harbaugh, and Kersey, that the type of metal frame bunk bed from which Jamal Miller hung himself posed a danger of risk of suicide prior to Jamal's death.

"The danger posed by the bunk beds was brought up in meetings and conversations between the director of IDJJ, Kurt Friedenauer, his staff and the clinical and medical staff, including at quarterly mental health meeting attended by defendants Jaworski, Harbaugh, and Kersey."

Friedenauer is not a party to the complaint.

"The health care professionals at these juvenile detention facilities have a duty to eliminate any risks that they reasonably can to insure that the youth cannot easily kill or harm themselves," Miller says.

She seeks $5 million in damages for medical malpractice leading to wrongful death.

She is represented by Kurt Feuer.

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