No Deliberate Indifference in Jail Suicide

(CN) – A Louisiana woman whose daughter committed suicide in jail did not prove jailers were deliberately indifferent to her daughter’s needs, a state appeals court ruled.
     Iberville Parish Sheriff’s Deputy David Whittenburg arrested Shantrell Haggan in the summer of 2008. She threatened to hang herself in jail. Whittenberg mentioned her threat to Deputy Calvin Green, Judge Page McClendon wrote in the ruling from Louisiana’s First Circuit Court of Appeal.
     Haggan, who was shackled to a bench, was aggressive and combative toward the jailers, according to the appellate opinion. Because of this behavior and her previous threat, Green decided to move her to an isolation cell while he located items for a formal suicide watch, including a suicide smock.
     Defendant Antoinette Dominique took Haggan to the restroom. Haggan was wearing a top and a skirt, but neither deputy saw that Haggan had a belt on as well. She had not been searched before she was placed in the isolation cell.
     After 12 to 13 minutes, Dominique discovered at Haggan had used the belt to kill herself by hanging from a pipe in the cell wall.
     Haggan’s mother, Peggy Patterson, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Sheriff Brent Allain and his deputies.
     The trial court ruled in Patterson’s favor against the sheriff, Green and Dominique, and awarded a total of $300,000 in damages.
     Patterson was not awarded punitive damages, so she appealed that aspect of the verdict.
     The Court of Appeal found that Patterson did not prove the jailers were “deliberately indifferent” to her daughter’s needs.
     “Clearly, Green and Dominique, by their own admission, were negligent in failing to frisk Haggan and remove the belt before placing Haggan in the isolation cell. The deputies’ negligence, however, is insufficient to constitute deliberate indifference,” Judge Page McClendon wrote for the three-judge panel.
     “Their actions in, among other things, attempting to locate a suicide smock to formally put Haggan on suicide watch reflects that the deputies did not simply ‘(disregard) an excessive risk to (Haggan’s) health or safety,” the judge added.
     The panel affirmed the trial court ruling, and assessed the costs to Patterson.

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