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RAPIER v. KANKAKEE COUNTY

May 30, 2002

CYNTHIA RAPIER, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS SPECIAL ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF KEVIN RAPIER, DECEASED, PLAINTIFF,
V.
KANKAKEE COUNTY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael P. McCUSKEY, U.S. District Judge:

ORDER

This case is before this court for ruling on the Motion for Summary Judgment (#19) filed by Defendant Kankakee County (County). Following this court's careful and thorough review of the documents filed and the arguments of the parties, the County's Motion (#19) is GRANTED.

FACTS

Sheriff Timothy Bukowski, who was responsible for the operation of the jail, testified that sex offenders, inmates who may not be able to defend themselves and inmates who were considered at risk of suicide were considered "special needs" inmates and were placed in the special needs cell. The special needs cell was located in a corridor which had a lot of guard traffic and staff passing by the cell. There was a small observation window in the steel door to the special needs cell through which a guard could see into the cell. The door and window were not visible from the booking area.

However, there was a narrow gap on the side of the door which allowed guards to visually observe a small portion of the special needs cell from the booking area. Bukowski and Downey testified that it was the policy at the jail to check on inmates in the special needs cell every 15 minutes. At the time Rapier was being held in the special needs cell, there was no log which documented the checks made on the inmates in the special needs cell.

On March 22, 1999, Rapier was seen by Nurse Kim Gartner. Gartner made a note of her visit with Rapier on his Medical Record. Gartner recorded that Rapier stated that he attempted suicide in 1998. She noted that Rapier still felt "depressed/suicidal." She stated that he needed continued monitoring and that she would call the Helen Wheeler Mental Health Center to make an appointment for Rapier. Based upon Gartner's recommendation, Rapier remained in the special needs cell.

Gartner called the Helen Wheeler Center the morning of March 26, 1999, regarding setting up an appointment for Rapier.

In 1973, when the jail was built, it had a capacity of 106 inmates. However, on March 26, 1999, because of the double bunking of cells and the use of other rooms at the jail to hold inmates, the inmate capacity of the jail was 217. On March 26, 1999, the total number of inmates at the jail was 129. Seven officers were on duty that day. Kent Smith, a correctional officer, testified that he was working at the booking area of the jail on that day. He was the supervisor and was not assigned to any particular area of the jail. However, his primary location in the jail was in the booking area.

Officer Carnahan was the correctional officer assigned to the ground floor of the jail, which included the special needs cell. Carnahan left the floor around 1:30 p.m. to conduct video court on another floor of the jail. At approximately 1:30 p.m., Smith spoke to Rapier. Rapier asked Smith if he could have a shower and Smith told Rapier he was too busy. Smith stated that he could see Rapier's eyes and face through the gap on the side of the door to the special needs cell. Rapier was the only inmate in the special needs cell at that time. Smith testified that, approximately 15 to 20 minutes later, he went to the special needs cell because an investigator with the public defender's office was there to see Rapier. Smith testified that he found Rapier hanging in his cell. Rapier had braided a rope using stuffing from his mattress and had secured it in the ceiling with a "stick" which looked like a piece of a wooden handle. Smith called for help and Randal Walling, the assistant chief of corrections, responded. Rapier did not have a pulse and was not breathing. Smith called the fire department. Paramedics from the fire department arrived within a short time and attempted to revive Rapier. Rapier was pronounced dead at 2:23 p.m. Rapier had used soap to write an apology to his family in his cell. Jail officials were unable to determine how Rapier obtained the stick he used to hang himself.

On March 24, 2000, Plaintiff, Cynthia Rapier (Rapier's wife), individually and as special administrator of Rapier's estate, filed her Complaint (#1) against Defendants, the County, Bukowski, Downey, Walling and Smith. Plaintiff alleged that the Defendants were liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for the violation of Rapier's rights under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Plaintiff alleged that the Defendants were deliberately indifferent to the risk of suicide by Rapier. On January 3, 2002, the parties filed a Stipulation (#22) which stated that Plaintiff voluntarily dismissed Defendants Bukowski, Downey, Walling and Smith. These Defendants were therefore terminated as parties to this case.

On January 2, 2002, the County, the only remaining Defendant, filed its Motion for Summary Judgment (#19), Memorandum of Law in Support (#20) and Statement of Undisputed Facts (#21) with attached documentation. The County argued that Plaintiff failed to establish an unconstitutional policy or practice on behalf of the County which can be said to be the proximate cause of Rapier's suicide. The County also argued that Plaintiff failed to establish that the County was deliberately indifferent to the risk of suicide by detainees through the implementation of any such policy or custom. The County argued that the jail's policy of checking on inmates in the special needs cell every 15 minutes was more stringent than the Illinois County Jail Standards, which required that inmates be visually observed at least every 30 minutes. The County noted that there was no evidence that the County had experienced a prior suicide in the special needs cell. The County also noted that the allegations in Plaintiff's Complaint were inconsistent with her deposition testimony.*fn1 Plaintiff filed a Response to the Motion for Summary Judgment (#23), a Response to the County's Statement of Undisputed Facts (#24) and numerous exhibits. Plaintiff argued that the County was well aware that the jail was overcrowded, understaffed and that the special needs cell was improperly designed because it did not allow for constant visual monitoring of inmates. Plaintiff also argued that previous suicides by hanging had occurred at the jail. Plaintiff contended that, because the County did not act to correct its staffing problems, it acted with deliberate indifference to the risk of suicide by detainees.

Plaintiff relied on the deposition testimony of Sheriff Bukowski in which he stated that he repeatedly advised the County Board that jail staff and detainees were at risk because of inadequate staffing levels, overcrowding and the poor design of the jail. Plaintiff also relied on various newspaper articles regarding conditions at the jail. In one newspaper article, Bukowski was quoted as stating he believed that having more staff at the jail could have prevented Rapier's suicide. In addition, Plaintiff relied on inspection reports prepared by the Illinois Department of Corrections. The reports from 1997 and 1998 stated that the level of staffing at the jail should be reviewed and increased if necessary. The report dated April 8, 1999, which was based upon an inspection which occurred on March 26, 1999, stated that the jail had insufficient personnel. Plaintiff also relied upon statements made by Richard Wade regarding conditions in the special needs cell. Wade was an inmate at the jail until February 1999 and was housed in the special needs cell for one month during his incarceration, beginning on July 14, 1998. On August 29, 1998, Wade sent a letter to Downey. In his letter to Downey, Wade complained about conditions in the special needs cell including the lack of regular monitoring of the inmates in the cell. Wade stated that there were usually periods of at least four hours when no one checked on the inmates in the special needs cell.

The County filed a Reply Memorandum (#25) and a Reply to Plaintiff's Statement of Additional Facts (#26) with additional documents. The County argued that the use of the special needs cell was a reasonable and effective way to prevent detainee suicides, and such use alone cannot constitute deliberate indifference. The County also argued that there was no evidence to show that the jail was understaffed on March 26, 1999, when there were seven officers on duty and the total number of inmates was 129. The County noted that the Illinois County Jail Standards do not require constant visual monitoring of inmates, including those determined to have special needs. The County attached a copy of the Illinois County Jail Standards which were in effect in March 1999. These standards state that a "jail officer shall provide personal observation, not including observation by a monitoring device, at least once every 30 minutes." The County argued that Wade's letter was not evidence of any deliberate indifference on the part of the County. In support of this argument, the County attached a copy of a portion of the deposition of Richard Wade. Wade stated that he had no knowledge of conditions at the jail after he left the jail on February 10, 1999. The County also contended that the newspaper articles relied on by Plaintiff were inadmissible hearsay. The County further noted that, at his deposition, Bukowski testified that the quote attributed to ...


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