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White v. Watson

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

May 2, 2018

DWAYNE WHITE, Administrator of the Estate of Bradley C. Scarpi, Deceased, Plaintiff,



         This matter comes before the Court on the defendants' motion for summary judgment (Doc. 76). Plaintiff Dwayne White, administrator of the estate of Bradley C. Scarpi, deceased, has responded to the motion (Doc. 91), and the defendants have replied to that response (Doc. 99).

         I. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment must be granted “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Spath v. Hayes Wheels Int'l-Ind., Inc., 211 F.3d 392, 396 (7th Cir. 2000). The reviewing court must construe the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of that party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986); Chelios v. Heavener, 520 F.3d 678, 685 (7th Cir. 2008); Spath, 211 F.3d at 396.

         The initial summary judgment burden of production is on the moving party to show the Court that there is no reason to have a trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323; Modrowski v. Pigatto, 712 F.3d 1166, 1168 (7th Cir. 2013). Where the non-moving party carries the burden of proof at trial, the moving party may satisfy its burden of production in one of two ways. It may present evidence that affirmatively negates an essential element of the non-moving party's case, see Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(A), or it may point to an absence of evidence to support an essential element of the non-moving party's case without actually submitting any evidence, see Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(B). Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-25; Modrowski, 712 F.3d at 1169. Where the moving party fails to meet its strict burden, a court cannot enter summary judgment for the moving party even if the opposing party fails to present relevant evidence in response to the motion. Cooper v. Lane, 969 F.2d 368, 371 (7th Cir. 1992).

         II. Facts

         Construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the evidence and the reasonable inferences that can be drawn from it establish the following relevant facts for purposes of the pending summary judgment motion. Further discussion of the facts will be included as necessary in the legal analysis that follows this section.

         A. Scarpi's Detention

         The plaintiff's decedent, Bradley C. Scarpi, was detained in the St. Clair County Jail (“Jail”) from April 14, 2014, to May 23, 2014, when he committed suicide. Scarpi suffered from mental illness―including generalized anxiety disorder and depression―and drug addiction, and had been in the Jail on numerous prior occasions, at which time his mental health problems were noted. Defendant Richard Watson is the St. Clair County sheriff under whose authority the Jail was maintained.

         On April 14, 2014, Scarpi was arrested by a Belleville police officer and brought to the Jail. As part of the booking process, the arresting officer asked Scarpi questions necessary to fill out a field booking form, including seven caution questions designed to indicate special needs in the jail[1] and eight questions in a “Brief Jail Mental Health Screen” designed to detect the need for further mental health evaluation (Doc. 76-2). Scarpi answered “no” to all of the caution and mental health screen questions. Larry Casey, the Jail's booking officer, reviewed Scarpi's “no” answers to the questions without asking Scarpi the questions again. Casey did not notice anything in Scarpi's mood or manner that made him concerned about Scarpi's mental health. Nor did he consult information from Scarpi's prior detentions showing he suffered from mental illness. Casey did not refer him for further mental health evaluation. In fact, Scarpi was suffering emotionally from the recent deaths of his mother and sister, but he did not mention this to the arresting officer or to Casey.

         Following his booking, Scarpi was assigned to be housed in the Annex B (“AB”) cell block. Twelve days later, on April 22, 2014, a nurse assigned to work at the Jail performed a mental health screening and evaluation. He disclosed to the nurse the recent loss of his mother and sister, but he indicated that he did not have a history of psychiatric treatment, that he was not thinking of killing himself, that he had not previously attempted suicide, that he was not showing signs of depression, that he did not have a suicide plan or instrument, that he was not feeling helpless or hopeless, and that he was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol. His behavior during the examination did not indicate any mental health problem, so the nurse concluded that he suffered from no mental health problem (Doc. 81 at 4).

         Scarpi remained housed in the AB cell block until May 23, 2014. Scarpi was suicidal around that time and confided in Daniel Nail, his cellmate, that he was thinking about “ending it all.” Nail thought Scarpi seemed depressed and upset about the recent loss of his mother and sister as well as about problems he was having in the cell block with other detainees.

         At about 4:00 p.m. on May 23, 2014, Scarpi reported to defendant Officer Mark J. Harris that he needed to move to a different cell because he was being threatened by other nearby detainees. In response, Harris took Scarpi to talk with Sergeant Brian Cunningham in Cunningham's office. Cunningham talked with Scarpi about the threats he was experiencing and then reassigned him to the Lower Level B (“LL-B”) cell block, the cell block farthest from the detainees who had been threatening Scarpi. In talking with Scarpi, Cunningham saw nothing that alerted him that Scarpi may want to kill himself or that he was experiencing mental health problems.

         Harris took Scarpi back to his cell in the AB cell block to gather his property. As they left the cellblock, other detainees taunted and ridiculed Scarpi. Harris began walking Scarpi to the LL-B cell block and was joined by defendant Officer Rodney Wilson. On the way to his new housing assignment, Scarpi told Harris and Wilson that he was also in danger in the LL-B cell block because the detainees threatening him in the AB cell block had friends in that cell block. Using his radio, Wilson told Cunningham of Scarpi's fear, so Cunningham order that Scarpi be instead moved to a maximum security cell block, the E-Max cell block.

         Assignment to the E-Max cell block was normally viewed by detainees as a form of punishment because the cells were small and the detainees there were extremely restricted. Each cell had a barred inside door and a second solid outside door with a small window between the cell and the hallway. Cunningham made this assignment not as punishment but for the purpose of protecting Scarpi in light of the fact that he would have a single cell there and that there was insufficient time before the shift change to conduct an adequate evaluation of where Scarpi could be housed to be away from his enemies. Other housing was available at the time but was not used.

         When Wilson and Harris arrived at the E-Max cell block, defendant Jail Officer Jon Knyff unlocked cell 5, and Wilson and Harris placed Scarpi in that cell. Cell 5 was not a “suicide-proof” cell, that is, a cell designed to prevent inmates from taking their own lives. Scarpi was claustrophobic, so placement in the small E-Max cell exacerbated his stress. Neither Wilson, Harris nor Knyff sought mental health assistance for Scarpi.

         There is a factual dispute about whether Wilson, Harris and Knyff knew Scarpi was suicidal when they placed him in the E-Max cell. Wilson and Harris testified that they perceived no distress from Scarpi during the cell move and that, on the contrary, he behaved calmly and rationally. However, David Brown, another detainee housed in the eight-cell E-Max cell block, has provided affidavit testimony that he saw two officers escorting Scarpi to his cell, that he heard Scarpi tell them loudly, multiple times, that he was going to kill himself, and that the officers responded sarcastically without taking Scarpi's statements seriously. Knyff, who unlocked Scarpi's E-Max cell, was present while he was placed in the cell. Consequently, he saw and heard whatever interactions Scarpi had with Wilson and Harris. The Court will discuss the resolution of this factual dispute later in its legal analysis.

         Once Scarpi was placed in the cell, officers conducted “health and well-being checks” in the E-Max cell block at least every thirty minutes as required by Jail policy. Knyff performed three checks before the end of the shift a little after 5:00 p.m. and did not observe anything unusual about Scarpi. Defendant Officer Christopher Lanzante took over on the following shift and performed numerous cell checks (on at least one occasion, another officer filled in for Lanzante while he was on break). On most of the checks, Lanzante saw Scarpi lying on his bunk and did not detect anything unusual. He performed the checks quickly.

         There is a factual dispute about whether Lanzante found out Scarpi was suicidal on one of his checks. Lanzante testified that Scarpi was lying on his bed during all the checks and that nothing appeared out of the ordinary. Four other detainees in the cell block have provided affidavits in which they state that on one of Lanzante's final checks, he had a conversation with Scarpi in which Scarpi told him he was thinking about killing himself, but that Lanzante ignored Scarpi's statement. Detainee Ronnie J. Gully Jr. also states in his affidavit that, after Lanzante's conversation with Scarpi, he himself told Lanzante that Scarpi was suicidal, and Lanzante once again responded with indifference. There is video evidence that on one check at approximately 8:46 p.m. Lanzante spent about twenty-two seconds in front of Scarpi's cell door then about twenty seconds in front of Gully's cell door. Lanzante conducted another check around 9:14 p.m. and saw nothing out of the ordinary.

         At approximately 9:30 p.m., Lanzante accompanied a nurse around the E-Max cell block while she went into cells to distribute medicine to detainees. Scarpi was not scheduled to get any medicine, so his cell door was not opened and the nurse did not enter his cell. Lanzante did not look into Scarpi's cell until he was on his way out of the cell block about four minutes after he and the nurse entered it. He noticed Scarpi standing by the interior barred door of his cell, but on a closer inspection a few seconds later, he saw Scarpi had a noose around his neck. Lanzante opened Scarpi's solid cell door to get a better look at him and saw that he was hanging from a noose tied to his barred cell door. Lanzante immediately left the cell block to summon backup and assistance. Defendant Officers Dante Beattie, Nicole Liebig, James Wagener and others responded to Scarpi's cell. They found Scarpi alive, and he was taken to the hospital. He died later that evening.

         Following Scarpi's suicide, the Jail conducted an investigation. The investigation did not include interviews with all detainees and staff who encountered Scarpi in the days before he killed himself. Specifically, it did not include interviews of the detainees in the E-Max cell block, even those it had reason to believe knew of relevant facts. Overall, the investigation did not meet professionally accepted standards for post-suicide investigation. Nevertheless, the investigating officer concluded jail staff did not violate any policies leading to Scarpi's suicide.

         B. Jail Policies and Practices

         Watson, as sheriff, adopted a number of policies and practices relating, either directly or indirectly, to suicide prevention and detection of mental illness among detainees at the Jail. In adopting these policies and procedures, Watson attempted to comply with the Illinois Jail Standards, 20 Ill. Admin. Code pt. 701 (2013).

         The Jail's standard booking practice, which was used when Scarpi was admitted to the Jail, employed unconventional booking form terminology. Further, it did not require the booking officer to ask the detainee the caution questions or administer the “Brief Jail Mental Health Screen.” Instead, the standard practice was to review the answers the detainee gave to and noted down by the arresting officer and only ask the detainee a question if there is no answer noted. The Illinois Jail Standards regarding physical and mental health assessments, 20 Ill. Admin. Code 701.40(i)(1) (2013), required the admitting officer to “observe the detainee for . . . general mental status” and to “determine by questioning whether the detainee . . . [h]as any indications of mental illness, developmental disabilities or dual diagnosis; [or] [h]as any suicidal tendencies as determined by the use of an approved screening instrument or history of medical illness” (emphasis added); see also 20 Ill. Admin. Code 701.40(i)(2) (2013) (requiring mental health professional or “a jail officer” to conduct the screening). Other than reviewing the answers given to the arresting office and observing a detainee for unusual behavior, no other standard practice existed for the booking officer to learn of a detainee's mental illness where the detainee failed to report it himself. If a mental health need was detected during the booking process, either from the detainee's answers to the questions or his behavior, the booking officer was to refer the detainee for a further mental health evaluation. There was no system for tracking whether the further evaluation occurred.

         As permitted by the County Jail Standards, 20 Ill. Admin. Code 701.90(b)(1)(B) (2013), the Jail contracted with Wexford Health Sources, Inc. to provide detainees with medical and mental health services. Wexford's policies stated that it would ensure necessary mental health services were available to detainees at the Jail. Its policies provided for a qualified health professional to conduct a mental health screening of a detainee within fourteen days of arrival at the Jail, see 20 Ill. Admin. Code 701.90(c)(3) (2013), followed by a mental health evaluation if a detainee had a positive mental health screen. The policies further provided for additional evaluation of a detainee referred by Jail staff based on the detainee's mental health complaints or inappropriate/abnormal behavior. Those with serious mental health problems were to be referred for mental health care. Ongoing monitoring and support were provided for detainees who needed continuing follow-up, but Wexford staff did not develop comprehensive written mental health treatment plans for mentally ill detainees. Instead, the doctor issued and evaluated orders regarding safety and medication on more of an ad hoc basis.

         Wexford provides annual training to Jail staff on recognizing cues that indicate potential suicide and how to respond appropriately. Detainees identified by Jail staff as at risk for suicide were referred to mental health professionals as soon as possible, There was no policy to evaluate detainees in connection with placement in the maximum security units like E-Max cell block.

         The Jail had a written Jail policy regarding suicide prevention entitled “Quiet Room/Suicide Watch Policy and Procedure” (“Quiet Room policy”). That policy provided guidance for placing suicidal detainees in a housing unit referred to as the Quiet Room, removing items they may use to harm themselves, and monitoring detainees-suicide watch-in the Quiet Room. Under the policy as it was implemented, once a Jail employee identified a detainee as potentially suicidal, the detainee should be placed in the Quiet Room for observation, medical staff should be notified, and a psychological referral should be made. Once a detainee was housed in the Quiet Room, a Wexford counselor would visit him every day and make a recommendation to security staff about whether he should stay in the Quiet Room or be released to the general population. There was no other interactive process by which mental health staff and security staff could exchange information about a detainee's mental health. A detainee was removed from the Quiet Room and housed in general population only after Wexford medical staff determines it was safe. The Quiet Room policy did not address treatment plans.

         In practice, not every Jail officer observed the Quiet Room policy to the letter. Some ignore detainees' suicide threats. Others would do some investigation before implementing the Quiet Room to determine whether a suicide threat was real or was for some other reason like, for example, playing on the sympathy of family members so they would send a detainee money or just seeking a break from a chaotic cell block.

         Despite these policies and practices, suicide and suicide attempts were not unknown at the Jail. A little more than two months before Scarpi's suicide, another detainee-Joshua B. Jurcich-committed suicide in the Jail. Based on his answers in the “Brief Jail Mental Health Screen, ” Jurcich's booking officer had referred him for further mental health evaluation, although he never saw a mental health professional. Several days after booking, Jurcich was in an altercation with Jail staff in which staff used force, and Jurcich was taken to be seen by the nurse. The nurse completed a mental health screening and evaluation, which indicated Jurcich had a history of psychiatric problems and medications. The nurse referred Jurcich for routine mental health follow-up. Jurcich was placed in a maximum security cell in F-Max cell block, which was similar to the cells in the E-Max cell block. There, he told several Jail officers making their thirty-minute checks that he was going to kill himself, and several hours later he hung himself from the bars of his cell door.

         Three other detainees-Rachel Mills, Jerry Davis and Preston Young-attempted to commit suicide in the months before Scarpi's death, Davis and Young attempting only days before Scarpi. Despite answering yes to half of the questions in the “Jail Brief Mental Health Screen” and noting a history of mental health problems, Mills was not referred for further mental health evaluation. Three days later, she was found sitting with a noose around her neck. She was moved to the Quiet Room and was seen by medical staff. Ten days after that, Mills informed a Jail officer she was not suicidal but needed help, so she was moved to the infirmary and the medical staff was notified. Davis and Young were both identified at booking as in need of further mental health evaluation. Several hours after his booking, Davis wrapped a shoe string around his neck. He was moved to the Quiet Room until he was transported to the hospital for treatment of a medical problem. After booking, Young was seen several times by mental health professionals. When a Jail officer saw him standing on his bed with a blanket tied around his neck, Young was moved to the Quiet Room and medical staff was notified.

         Four other detainees- Carlos Rickman, Jessica Hart, Rodney Brown, and Ramone Parker-had attempted to commit suicide in the nine years before Scarpi's death. In 2005, Rickman twice attempted to harm himself and was placed in restraints in the Quiet Room. On other separate periods of detention he was housed in the Quiet Room. In 2008, Hart attempted to kill herself by cutting her wrists and drinking Febreeze. In January 2013, she tried again by drinking bleach. On both occasions, she received medical treatment and was placed in the Quiet Room in the female section of the Jail. In June 2013, Brown held a razor against his neck and said he wanted to kill himself; he was taken to the Quiet Room. In September 2013, Parker attempted to hang himself after a Jail officer ignored his threat to kill himself; he was placed in the Quiet Room. Additional circumstances of these detainees' booking evaluation, mental health attention and other suicide prevention measures are not reflected in the record.

         Despite knowing of Jurcich's suicide and the other suicide attempts, Watson did not change any of the Jail policies or procedures. After Scarpi killed himself, another inmate committed suicide and eight others tried but were unsuccessful.

         Around the time of Scarpi's suicide, the jail housed more detainees than its capacity on some days, sometimes by as many as twenty-two detainees, but at other times it was under capacity by as many as twenty-six detainees. The Jail was also routinely short-staffed.

         III. Procedural History

         White, Scarpi's brother, filed this lawsuit as the administrator of Scarpi's estate. In the Third Amended Complaint, he asserts six causes of action:

Count I: a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Harris, Wilson, Lanzante, Knyff, Beattie, Liebig and Wagener (the “individual defendants”) in their individual capacities for violation of the Fourteenth Amendment due process clause for deliberate indifference to the risk of suicide;
Count II: a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Watson in his official capacity for violation of the Fourteenth Amendment due process clause for deliberate indifference to the risk of suicide by failing to have adequate policies, practices and training;
Count III: a claim under Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12132, against Watson in his official capacity for failure to accommodate Scarpi's mental illness;
Count IV: a claim under the Illinois Wrongful Death Act, 740 ILCS 180/1, against the individual defendants on behalf of Scarpi's two minor sons;
Count V: a claim under the Illinois Wrongful Death Act under a respondeat superior theory against Watson in his official capacity; and
Count VI: a claim against St. Clair County for indemnification for the liability of the St. Clair County Sheriff's Department and its employees.

         The defendants now ask the Court for summary judgment on all counts. White concedes in his response to the defendants' summary judgment motion that defendants Beattie, Liebig and Wagener should be dismissed from Count I of this case, and the defendants do not object to this disposition in their reply. Accordingly, the Court will grant summary judgment for Beattie, Liebig and Wagener on Count I. It will address later in this order whether they belong in Count IV, White's wrongful death claim. The Court now turns to the remaining claims.

         III. ...

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