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California Jail Suicide Lawsuit Settled For $840,000; Contract Health Care Inadequate

A three year old federal wrongful death lawsuit brought by the family of a Yolo County, California jail detainee who hanged himself was settled for $840,000 on September 1, 2004. Contract health care provider California Forensic Medical Group, Inc. agreed to pay $825,000 of the total, based upon a finding that its four hours per week of jail psychiatrist staffing was inadequate and contributory to the plaintiff's death.

Thirty-two year-old Morton Aachen had been in the Monroe Detention Facility in Woodland, California for ten days in connection with corporal injury to a girlfriend. Aachen was known to jail personnel, and their contract psychiatrist Dr. Asa F. Hambly, because Aachen had been jailed by nearby Davis, California police two weeks earlier, where he had attempted suicide. Both in Davis and Woodland, Aachen was treated by California Forensic, who knew of Aachen's history of mental illness and drug and alcohol abuse of almost twenty years.

Although Aachen was initially placed on suicide watch in Woodland, it was only an informal" watch. Court papers showed that during the ten days, he received intermittent varying levels of medical supervision. Importantly, they showed Aachen did not receive prescribed psychotropic medications for a number of days." After showing a heightened level of anxiousness" on the last day, he was found hanged from a sheet tied to his bed in his cell on August 5,2000.

California Forensic is paid $1.75 million annually by Yolo County to cover two jail facilities, and has been under contract since 1990. It has contracts with 25 California counties, and has been troubled by short staffing before. It paid $1.5 million to settle two wrongful death lawsuits in 1999 regarding prisoners who died when their minor infections worsened while they were in the Ventura County jail.

Source: Sacramento Bee.

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