By Carole C. Schriefer, R.N., J.D.
On December 7, 2017, a mentally ill inmate in the Boulder, Colorado, jail sued a sheriff in federal court, claiming that the jail staff failed to stop the man from using his fingers to gouge out his own eyes after several prior attempts to do so. The inmate sued him and 21 other jail employees in U.S. District Court in Denver. He claimed that he blinded himself because they failed to heed warning signs to treat his mental illness, according to the civil lawsuit filed by his Denver civil rights attorneys.
The inmate, who is now blind and suffers from deep, severe schizophrenic psychosis, is seeking monetary awards for negligence, including compensatory damages for physical and psychological injuries including pain and emotional distress and humiliation. He suffers from auditory and visual hallucinations, delusions and paranoia, according to the lawsuit.
On December 17, 2016, the inmate curled up in a ball in his cell with fingernails that hadn’t been cut for six weeks and plucked both of his eyes “completely out of his head,” the lawsuit says. The lawsuit also says jailers failed to respond to a series of precursor events in which the inmate said he would gouge his eyes out. In early 2016, he banged his head into his toilet, breaking seven teeth, the lawsuit says. Additionally, there were several prior attempts by the inmate to committed suicide.
Shane McGurk, the jail’s mental health program director, sought an emergency court order to get him psychiatric treatment. The judge ordered deputies to immediately take him to get psychiatric treatment. However, according to the lawsuit, the orders were ignored and the “Defendants’ willful and deliberate indifference to the inmate’s serious medical needs directly led to his self-mutilation, head and vertebrae injury, broken teeth and ultimately, to his permanent blindness.”
The jail failed to properly train officers in how to care for a mentally ill inmate, the lawsuit said.
This is not the first time an inmate or their families have sued for improper care during incarceration. Click here to read one of my prior blogs on a similar case.
It is an unfortunate reality that our society today tends to ignore citizens with true and severe mental health illnesses, choosing to treat them as criminals, instead. Instead of allocating funds for treatment, acting in a preventative manner, it prefers to spend the money for prisons and paying for incarceration. This is a complete shame. This poor, mentally ill individual suffers the consequences. Unfortunately, the officials who run our jails and prisons also suffer by being the treater of last resort, which is grossly unfair to them, as well. Our jail and prison officials should have a “safety relief valve” available to them where they can divert individuals who have been incarcerated because of their mental illnesses and obtain appropriate treatment for them.
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Mitchell, Kirk. “Mentally Ill inmate sues for negligence.” The Denver Post. (December 8, 2017). Web.
Mitchell, Kirk. “Psychotic Boulder jail inmate gouges out own eyes, sues county for negligence.” The Denver Post. (December 7, 2017). Web.
About the Author: Carole C. Schriefer is an attorney and registered nurse. She practices with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its regional office is in the Northern Colorado, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 155 East Boardwalk Drive, Fort Collins, Colorado 80525. Phone: (970) 416-7456. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida area.
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