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Estate of Wells v. Bureau County

July 2, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael M. Mihm United States District Judge


This matter is now before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion [#28] is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.


The Court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, as the Complaint alleges claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Americans With Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12131, et seq., and Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794.


Austin Wells ("Wells") was a 17-year old who lived with his father, stepmother, and brother in Dover, Illinois. He also worked for his parents at their business, Cranford Sign and Lighting Company. On June 4, 2007, Wells was arrested and taken to the Bureau County Jail (the "Jail"), where he committed suicide on June 9, 2007.

Back on May 18, 2007, the Bureau County Sheriff's dispatcher received a report from Wells' girlfriend, Julia Eickmeier ("Eickmeier"), indicating that Wells was missing and had made statements about killing himself. Sheriff's deputies searched for him, but were unable to find him until the next day. He denied having contemplated suicide and was examined by a physician who found him to be normal and not suicidal at that time based on his denials. Following this incident, Wells returned home with his father.

On June 2, 2007, Wells was taken into custody at the Jail after being arrested by Deputy Sheriff Trey Barker on charges of illegal consumption of alcohol by a minor and possession of drug paraphernalia. He was processed by Officer James Todd ("Todd"). During the intake screening, Todd entered a response of "no" to all of the screening questions. Wells posted a $100 bail bond and was released that same day. Two days later, on June 4, 2007, Wells was arrested by Officer Rick Taylor of the Princeton Police Department on charges of contributing to the delinquency of a minor and brought to the Jail.

During 2007, Sergeant Bill Redshaw ("Redshaw") was the Jail Superintendent and Defendant John E. Thompson was the Bureau County Sheriff. The Jail operated on two daily shifts: the day shift was from 5 AM to 5 PM; the night shift was from 5 PM to 5 AM. One correctional officer was on duty in the Jail during each shift. Additionally, on some days, there was an additional officer working a cover shift from 11 AM to 11 PM. Five correctional officers were on duty in the Jail at various times during the period Wells was in custody:

Monday, June 4 11 AM - 11 PM Chris Spiegel

5 PM - 5 AM Sherry Keefer

Tuesday, June 5 5 AM - 5 PM Patrick Beaber

11 AM - 11 PM Chris Spiegel

5 PM - 5 AM Sherry Keefer

Wednesday, June 6 5 AM - 8 PM Amy Rodda

5 PM - 5 AM James Todd

Thursday, June 7 5 AM - 5 AM Amy Rodda

Friday, June 8 5 AM - 5 PM Patrick Beaber

11AM - 11 PM Chris Spiegel

5 PM - 5 AM Sherry Keefer

Saturday, June 9 5 AM - 5 PM

Patrick Beaber Since 2003, the Jail utilized a computerized intake ("booking") process in order to establish a record of background information with respect to each arrestee being received into custody. When this system was installed, a representative of the company that installed the program conducted a one-day training course on the use and operation of the program for all correctional officers employed at that time.

According to Defendants, the Jail's intake process involved the intake officer doing a physical assessment of every incoming arrestee by (a) observing the arrestee for any obvious injuries or illness requiring immediate emergency medical care; (b) determining by questioning whether the arrestee had a medical condition, such as diabetes or epilepsy, which would require medical attention during custody; and (c) determining through observation and questioning whether the arrestee might present mental health problems or a risk of self harm. The intake officer would record his observations and the answers to the screening questions in the booking computer.

The program requires the intake officer to enter information including background information on the arrestee, the nature of the arrest, fingerprints and photographs of the arrestee, a medical history, and a mental health/suicide screening. As questions appear on the computer, the intake officer must type the responses on a keyboard. There are certain questions where a "yes" response will provide an opportunity to type in an explanation. There are also certain questions where a "yes" response triggers the instructions: "If yes, notify the OIC [officer in charge] desk." Defendants assert that whenever there was a "yes" answer to one of those questions, the policy and practice at the Jail was that the intake officer was to ask the arrestee for an explanation of the answer and to notify Redshaw, or in his absence, the senior Sheriff's deputy on duty; there is some evidence suggesting that this "policy" was not widely understood or followed. If an arrestee had previously been booked into the Jail, entry of the name into the computer will bring up background information from the most recent intake on the computer screen. Following the entry of this information, the arrestee is fingerprinted and photographed. The computer then prints out an Adult Arrest Report, a Property Sheet, an Arrest Card, and a Fingerprint Card for the arrestee's jail file. Plaintiffs note that there was no written policy or procedure for the intake process at that time.

On June 4, 2007, Defendants Officer Sherry Keefer ("Keefer") and Officer Chris Spiegel ("Spiegel") handled Wells' intake process. Keefer created an intake record for him by entering information into the Jail's computerized intake program. Both Keefer and Spiegel testified that they did not recognize Wells at that time, know anything about him, his criminal history, or his arrest record. Keefer does not remember the actual booking process with Wells other than that nothing stuck out to her, but admits that she determined that he had a prior arrest because his name was already in the computer when she started the booking process, and she was able to clone his personal information from the prior record.*fn1 Spiegel claims that Wells appeared to be a normal teenage boy, with nothing unusual about him or his demeanor. Plaintiffs contend that this belief was not reasonable under the circumstances.

Correctional officers have access to an arrestee's history of prior contacts with the Sheriff's Department. Neither Keefer nor Spiegel looked this up with respect to Wells on June 4, 2007. Nor did Keefer note the dates of his prior arrest or the reasons for the arrest. Correctional officers cannot access the arrest reports and other incident reports generated by the law enforcement division of the Sheriff's Department on the Jail computer.

Although she does not remember the actual booking process with Wells, Keefer's normal practice when doing intake processing was to ask the arrestee the medical screening questions just as they were worded on the computer monitor. The first two questions on the medical screening ask about information provided to the intake officer by the arresting officer. Keefer does not recall if she received any information from the arresting officer, but entered the answer "no" to questions about whether he had displayed any suicidal signs or symptoms to the arresting officer or whether the arresting officer had noted any health problems. Keefer answered "no" to each of the questions directed to Wells' medical history and observations of any visible injury or trauma. Keefer answered "yes" to the question about whether Wells lacked close family and friends in the community, but otherwise answered questions about him and his family with a response of "no." Keefer and Spiegel claim to have been unaware that Wells' "yes" answer was incorrect, despite the fact that it contradicted other information on the booking form. Keefer also answered "no" to questions regarding whether she observed Wells showing signs of depression, appearing overly anxious, afraid or angry, appearing unusually embarrassed or ashamed, acting or talking in a strange manner, being under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and showing signs of withdrawal or mental illness.

Defendants assert that when an arrestee answers "yes" to medical screening questions relating to injury or illness, medication, and/or suicide risk, the intake officer prints out a Medical Sheet providing a summary of the information and writes the arrestee's explanations for the "yes" answers on the sheet. Keefer did not print out a Medical Sheet for Wells on June 4, 2007.

Wells was charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor. The statutory bond on that charge was $100. After completing the intake process, Spiegel and Keefer escorted Wells to Cellblock 2 in the Jail, which was used to house male detainees in general custody. The cellblock consists of four two-bed cells, a dayroom, and a guard walkway. Keefer explained the rules of the Jail to him as they walked. Wells knew another detainee in Cellblock 2 and chose to share a cell with him. After this detainee was moved out of Cellblock 2 on June 8, 2007, Wells did not have a cellmate.

Spiegel was on duty from 11AM to 11PM on June 4, 5, 8, and 9, 2007. On June 4, 5, and 8, Spiegel observed Wells during cell checks talking, playing cards, or using the collect-call telephone repeatedly to ask people to help him come up with the bond money that he needed to get out of jail. Keefer recalls observing Wells in Cellblock 2 playing cards or arguing on the phone. Beaber said that nothing stuck out about Wells and only recalls speaking with Wells once about a legal question about court between 4:30 and 5:00 PM on the last day Wells was alive. On June 8, Wells got a tuberculosis test from the jail nurse and gave Spiegel a commissary order for free toiletries.

From 10 PM to 6:30 AM, detainees are locked in their cells. During the overnight period from 11 PM on June 8, 2007, to 5 AM on June 9, 2007, Keefer did eleven cell checks on Cellblock 2. While standing in the guard walkway, officers are able to look into two of the four cells and observe detainees in those cells, but officers are unable to see the detainees in the other two cells in the cellblock. During her checks, Keefer personally observed the detainees in two of the cells in Cellblock 2 because she could see them from the guard walkway, but did not observe Wells in his cell because she was unable to see into his cell from the guard walkway. At 6:45 AM on Saturday, June 9, 2007, when Beaber let the detainees in Cellblock 2 out of their cells for breakfast, he discovered Wells hanging in his cell.

On June 4, 2008, Plaintiffs brought this action alleging claims under ยง 1983 for violation of Wells' civil rights while in custody, Title II of the ADA for failing to modify the jail facilities, operations, and programs to reasonably accommodate Wells' mental disabilities, Monell claims against Sheriff Thompson and Bureau County for maintaining policies and practices at the Jail that were deliberately indifferent to Wells' rights, and state law claims under the Illinois Wrongful Death Act, 740 ILCS 180/2, Illinois common law, and the Illinois Local Government and Local ...

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