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Suit Over Suicide At Indian Jail In Washington Settled For $700,000

The family of a man who hanged himself in a Washington jail managed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) has settled with the federal government for $700,000, according to an announcement made on January 31, 2007.

Although he had expressed suicidal thoughts, Ricky Sampson, 39, was left unattended at the Yakama Jail in Yakima County, Washington, in June 2004. Alone in a cell, Sampson managed to hang himself from a broken light fixture in an area not monitored by the jail?s surveillance cameras. A single jailer was on duty at the time. Sampson?s body was not discovered until breakfast the following morning?about 8 hours later. According to the lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington, his body was already stiff with rigor mortis.

The Yakama Jail was spotlighted in a blistering report published by the Department of Interior in September 2004. The report characterized Indian prisons, which are overseen by the BIA, as a ?national disgrace? after finding them notoriously mismanaged, severely overcrowded, and woefully underfunded. The report specifically noted the Yakama Jail, which had an unnerving 53 suicide attempts in a three-year period. [See PLN, February 2005, p. 1.]

The settlement ?closes a tragic chapter at the jail,? said Terry P. Abeyta, an attorney for the family. ?The recognition of the poor condition of the jail which led to Sampson?s death will at least lead to some positive benefit to his four children and one grandchild.?

Just six months after Sampson?s death a teenager at the jail also attempted suicide. The jail has been closed since, but officials plan to reopen it. In September 2006 the Justice Department awarded $450,000 to the Yakima Nation to bring the 50-bed jail into federal compliance.

A lawsuit against the BIA over the juvenile?s suicide attempt is still pending. The boy was transported to a local hospital in critical condition after he was found hanging from exposed phone wires in a holding cell. The tragedy came five months after the jail was ordered to stop holding juveniles in the same facilities as adults.

Attorney Terry P. Abeyta is based in Yakima, Washington. See: Sampson v. United States, USDC ED WA, Case No. CV-05-3103 FVS.

Additional sources: Associated Press, Seattle Times

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Related legal case

Sampson v. United States