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Understaffed Jail Not Liable for Suicide

The decedent, arrested for DUI, told the arresting officer and a jail
officer that his girlfriend recently hanged herself in another jail and
that the other jurisdiction's police force did that to her. He told the
admissions officer that if he had to stay in jail all night, he would kill
himself. Another jailer was told to watch the decedent carefully, was
aware that he was in a cell with video surveillance, and knew that his belt
and shoelaces had been taken; the court infers that he knew the decedent
was a suicide risk. The officer on duty went one hour and 46 minutes
between glances at the video camera; in the interim the decedent hanged
himself with his underwear elastic. There was a factual dispute whether
the officer was instructed to check on inmates every hour or two hours.

The county cannot be held liable for failing to provide a second nighttime
jailer despite a class action consent judgment requirement to that effect
and the Sheriff's requests for it. At 987: "A consent decree . . . which
arises out of a voluntary settlement and is not based upon a finding
of--and is not expressly intended to remedy a--violation of the
Constitution cannot create or expand constitutional rights." Id. at n.9:
"Consent decrees are court orders and can readily be enforced by contempt
citations and the court's inherent powers. . . ." Therefore "little need
exists to allow suits under section 1983."

Plaintiff asserted that the decree put the county on notice of the
understaffing problem and established deliberate indifference. At 987:
"While we accept that the [consent] order is relevant to the deliberate
indifference inquiry, its violation, standing alone, does not establish
deliberate indifference. It is merely one element in the inquiry."
Neither the consent decree nor the Sheriff's request for the staffing shows
the county's awareness of a strong likelihood of suicide, since suicide was
not a factor in that litigation and the word doesn't appear in the order,
and the requests for additional staff were based on concerns about escape
and not suicide. There is no evidence of prior suicides in the jail.

The jailer who saw the decedent hanging and did not enter his cell to cut
him down, and who failed to check the cell for an hour and 46 minutes,
could not be held liable even though he knew of the risk of suicide. The
prior consent decree required hourly checks but did not establish a
constitutional right to such checks, and was not focused on preventing
suicide. The fact that the decedent's belt and shoelaces had been taken
indicated a suicide risk but also decreased the risk; the jailer was not
required to predict he would hang himself with his underwear elastic.

The court remands for entry of judgment for defendants; it does not leave
room for repleading the claim as a contempt motion despite its comments on
contempt. See: Cagle v. Sutherland, 334 F.3d 980 (11th Cir. 2003) (per

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Related legal case

Cagle v. Sutherland

Cagle v. Sutherland, 334 F.3d 980 (11th Cir. 06/18/2003)

[1] U.S. Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

[2] Nos. 02-13131, 02-13651

[3] 334 F.3d 980

[4] June 18, 2003


[6] Appeals from the United States District Court for the Northe rn District of Alaba ma D.C. Docket No. 00-02679 CV-AR-J

[7] Before Edm Ondson, Chief Judge, and KR Avitch and Gibson *fn1, Circuit Judges.

[8] The opinion of the court was delivered by: Per Curiam


[10] This case arises from a suicide at a jail. Cynthia Cagle, on behalf of the estate of her brother Danny Ray Butler, filed this section 1983 action against Winston County, the County Commission (collectively " Winston County" or "the C county"), and various county officials in their individual capacities. Defendants moved for summary judgment. The district court denied summary judgment to Winston C county, Sheriff David Sutherland and Jailer Allen Cole but granted it to the other defendants. Winston County, Sheriff Sutherland, and Jailer Cole appeal.*fn2 Because none of de fendants ac ted with deliberate indifference to Butler's constitutional rights, we vacate the denial of summary judgment and remand w ith instructions to grant summary judgment to the defendants.


[12] This case arises out of the suicide of Donnie Ray Butler while he was detained in the Winston County Jail.

[13] A. The Suicide

[14] Butler was arrested by State Trooper Max Holt for DU I shortly after six o'clock in the evening on 23 September 1999. Butler had failed a field sobriety test and blew a.162 on an Alcosensor test. Butler was taken to Winston County Jail by Deputy Bryan Kirkpatrick while Trooper Holt waited for a tow truck.

[15] During the ride to the jail, Butler told Deputy Kirkpatrick that Butler's girlfriend recently hanged herself at the C arbon Hill City Jail. *fn3 When they arrived at the Winston County Jail, Officer Mark Taylor prepared to administer an intoxilizer test to Butler. Butler refused to take the test. Butler told O fficer Taylor about Butler's friend's suicide and said that the Carbon Hill police department*fn4 had done that to her.

[16] After talking with Butler, Officer Taylor spoke to Jailer Cole. Officer Taylor told Jailer Cole that he should w atch Butler and check o n him frequently.*fn5 Trooper Holt arrived at the jail and started working on the admissions paperwork. He asked Butler a series of questions on Butler's medical history and mental health. Butler answered all the questions and did not indicate a history of mental health problems. Butler did, how ever, tell Trooper Holt that if Butler had to stay in jail all night, he would kill himself.

[17] Because Butler was intoxicated, the officers placed Butler in Cell One which was monitored by a video camera. Deputy Kirkpatrick w ent to the cell and removed items that he thought Butler could use to hurt himself, leaving only the bunk beds and a mattress pad. Meanwhile, because of Butler's suicide threat, Trooper Holt had Butler remove his belt and shoelaces and empty his pockets. Butler was placed in the cell by himself to prevent him from harming someone else or himself. Trooper Holt and D eputy Kirkpatrick asked the inmates in the adjacent cell to watch Butler: A peephole between the cells allowed the inmates to check on each other.

[18] After completing the p aperw ork, Trooper Holt checked on Butler and left the jail. At 9:00 p.m., Jailer Cole performed a cell check a nd found nothing out of the ordinary. At 9:30 p.m., Deputy Kirkpatrick left the jail. When Deputy Kirkpatrick left the jail, Jailer Cole was the only county employee remaining at the jail. It was the policy of the Winston County Sheriff' s Office to have only one person at the jail at night.*fn6 At 10:46 p.m. Jailer Cole performed another cell check.*fn7 Jailer Cole saw Butler "sitting upright against the wall with something hanging from the top bunk around his neck." Jailer Cole immediately went to call Deputy Slocumb and Officer Taylor for assistance.*fn8

[19] Officer Taylor arrived at the jail at 10:49, and Deputy Slocumb arrived shortly thereafter. Jailer Cole gave them the ce ll keys, and they procee ded to Butler's cell. Jailer Cole remained in the office and called an ambulance, Sheriff Sutherland, Chief Deputy Wright, Deputy Kirkpatrick, Trooper Holt and the District Attorney's office. When Officer Taylor reached the cell, he observed that Butler had hanged himself. Butler had used the elastic from his underwear to hang himself. Taylor checked for a pulse, found none, cut Butler down, checked again, and still found no pulse.

[20] Deputy Slocumb observed that Butler was still warm but was cooler than normal to the touch. Neither O fficer Taylor nor De puty Slocumb attempted to resuscitate Butler. The paramedics arrived shortly afterward, and they also did not attempt to resuscitate Butler. Butler was pronounced dead.

[21] B. The Praytor Order

[22] In the early 1980's the Winston County Jail was involved in a jail-condition lawsuit, Praytor v. Townsend. The complaint focused on jail living conditions and did not mention suicide. In Praytor, the parties reached a settlement; and the district court entered a consent decree a dopting the terms of the settlement: Praytor v. Townsend, CV-80-HM-250-S (N.D. Ala. June 8, 1984)[hereinafter Praytor order]. The Praytor order req uired, among other things, a minimum of two full-time personnel on duty between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m., adequate two-way c ommunication, and hourly prisoner checks. Although both Sheriff Sutherland, who took office in 1995, and the current County Commissioner did not know about the Praytor order, it bound them as successors in interest. The Praytor court made no findings that the conditions in the Winston County Jail were ever unconstitutional or that the order was necessary to prevent constitutional violations.

[23] C. This litigation

[24] On 22 September 2000, Cagle brought this section 1983 action against Winston County, Alabama, the Winston County Commission, Sheriff Sutherland, Chief Deputy Wright, Deputy Kirkpatrick and Jailer Cole. Defendants moved for summary judgment. The district court granted Chief Deputy W right's and Deputy Kirkpatrick's motions. The district court said that neither violated the Praytor order and that, therefore, they w ere entitled to qualified immunity.*fn9 The district court denied summary judgment to the other defendants because it determined that they violated the mandates of the Praytor order. The district court apparently believed that the Praytor violation equated to a violation of Butler's constitutional rights. The district court also said the Praytor order clea rly established the law, defeating Sheriff Sutherland's and Jailer Cole's claims of qualified immunity.


[26] We re view the denial of summary judgment de novo. LaChance v. Duffy's Draft House, Inc., 146 F.3d 832, 834 (11th Cir. 1998). We view the fac ts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Dolihite v. Maughon ex rel. Videon, 74 F.3d 1027, 1040 (11th Cir. 1996). A defendant's entitlement to qualified immunity is a question of law to be reviewed de novo. Id.

[27] Because Butler was a pretrial detainee, his section 1983 claims are based on the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Belcher v. C ity of Foley, Ala., 30 F.3d 1390, 1396 (11th C ir. 1994). "[I]n a prisoner suicide case, to prevail under sec tion 1983 for violation of substantive rights, under... the... fourteenth amendment, the plaintiff must show that the jail official displayed 'delibera te indifference' to the prisoner's taking of his own life." Edwards v. Gilbert, 867 F.2d 1271, 1274-75 (11th Cir. 1989). The deliberate indifference standard "requires a strong likelihood rather than a mere possibility that the self-infliction of harm will occur." Popham v. City of Talladega, 908 F.2d 1561, 1563 (11th Cir. 1990) (emphasis added). "[T]he mere opportunity for suicide, w ithout more, is clearly insufficient to impose liability on those charged with the care of prisoners." Tittle v. Jefferson County Comm'n, 10 F.3d 1535, 1540 (11th Cir. 1994).

[28] A. Winston C county and the C county Commission

[29] To subject a county to liability under section 1983 the plaintiff must show that the constitutional violation occurred as a result of a county policy. Id. "[A] plaintiff must show that the municipal action was taken with the requisite degree of culpability and must demonstrate a direct causal link between the municipal action and the deprivation of federal rights." Bd. of the C county Comm'rs of Bryan County v. Brown, 117 S.Ct. 1382, 1388 (1997). "[P]roof that a municipality's legislative body or authorized decisionmaker has intentionally deprived a plaintiff of a federally protected right necessarily establishes that the municipality acted culpably." Id. at 1389.

[30] Cagle argued that the County acted with deliberate indifference when it failed to provide funding for an additional nighttime jailer despite Praytor's requireme nts and Sheriff Sutherland's requests. The district court determined a reasonable jury could conclude that this inaction was a county policy; that the policy violated the inmates' constitutional rights; and that the violation proximately caused Butler's death. The district court apparently reached this conclusion based on a belief that Praytor defined the constitutional rights of prisoners and detainees in the Winston County Jail. The court rejected the C county's arguments that it lacked the funds to pay for an additional jailer, noting "[s]hortage of funds is not a justification for continuing to deny citizens their constitutional rights."

[31] Section 1983 provides in relevant part:

[32] Every pers on who, under color o f any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.

[33] 42 U.S.C. § 1983. When e valuating a local governme nt's section 1983 liability "a court 'looks only to whether the municipality has conformed to the requirements of the Federal Constitution and statutes.'" Maine v. Thiboutot, 100 S.Ct. 2502, 2504 (1980) (quoting Owen v. City of Independence, 100 S.Ct. 1398, 1415 (1980)). A consent decree, like the Praytor order, w hich arises out of a voluntary settlement and is not based upon a finding of -- and is not expressly intended to remedy aviolation of the Constitution cannot create or expand constitutional rights. See Green v. McKaskle, 788 F.2d 1116, 1123 (5th Cir. 1988)("such orders do not create ' rights, privileges or immunities secured by the C onstitution and laws'"); see also Klein v. Zavaras, 80 F.3d 432, 435 (10th C ir. 1996); Martel v. Fridovich, 14 F.3d 1, 3 (1st Cir. 1993); DeGidio v. Pung, 920 F.2d 525, 534 (8th Cir. 1990). Such orders often place requirements on litigants that go beyond the minimum requirements of the Constitution. Because the orders cannot cre ate or exp and constitutional rights, a section 1983 claim cannot be based solely on a violation of the order.*fn10

[34] Cagle concedes, in her brief, that consent decrees can neither create nor expand constitutional rights. She says, however, that the consent decree can still be relevant to a section 1983 action. She claims that the Praytor order put Winston County on notice of the understaffing problem and, in this sense, that the violation of the order establishes deliberate indifference to the risk of jail suicide. We disagree.

[35] While we accept that the Praytor order is releva nt to the deliberate indifference inquiry, its violation, standing alone, does not establish deliberate indifference. It is merely one element in the inquiry. To establish a defendant's deliberate indifference, the plaintiff has to show that the defendant had "(1) subjective knowledge of a risk of serious harm; [and] (2) disregard[ed]... that risk; (3) by conduct that is more than mere negligence." McElligott v. Foley, 182 F.3d 1248, 1255 (11th Cir. 1999). In the case of a county defendant, the plaintiff must point to a policy that demonstrates the County's deliberate indifference. See Tittle, 10 F.3d at 1540 (Counties may be liable for violations of co nstitutional rights only when such violations occur as a result of an official county policy).

[36] Because this case is a jail suicide case, Cagle must show that the County's failure to fund a seco nd, nighttime jailer was deliberately indifferent to a " 'strong likelihood, rather than a mere po ssibility,' that suicide w ould result from [the County's] actions or inaction." Tittle, 10 F.3d at 1540 (citation omitted). Cagle argues that the Praytor order and Sheriff Sutherland's request for an additional nighttime jailer demonstrate the County's awareness of a strong likelihood for suicide. Neither thing does so.

[37] The Praytor order de rived from a jail-condition clas s action. Suicide was no factor in that litigation. The word "suicide" appears nowhere in the Praytor complaint and nowhere in the Praytor order. Sheriff Sutherland's requests for an additional nighttime jailer were based on his concerns about escape. His requests make no mention of a risk of suicide. These fac ts fall short of establishing that the County was aware of a strong likelihood of suicide. In addition, no evidence shows that, before Butler, any prisoner had ever committed suicide in Winston County Jail. Nothing in the record required County officials to conclude that commonly prisoners in the Winston County Jail were substantially likely to attempt suicide. See Tittle, 10 F.3d at 1540 ("The p laintiffs cite no authority that supports the argument that the occurrence of two suicides and twenty-seven attempted suicides in the jail requires County officials to conclude that all prisoners of the Jefferson County Jail are substantially likely to attempt suicide.").

[38] The record contains no facts that show the County was truly aware that prisoners in the Winston County Jail were likely to attempt suicide. The County's decision to fund no additional nighttime watcher was not deliberately indifferent to a substantial likelihood of detainee suicide. Popham, 908 F.2d at 1565 (fact that no night guard was on duty at the jail and that the Mayor decided to leave the position unfilled did not establish deliberate indifference).

[39] B. Sheriff Sutherland

[40] Cagle proceeded against Sheriff Sutherland based on his failure to train properly Jailer Cole and the other employees of the jail on suicide prevention; his failure, in violation of the Praytor order, to have two employees at the jail at night; and his failure, also in violation of the Praytor order, to have the cells checked every hour. The district court said that Sheriff Sutherland retained qualified immunity for his alleged failure to train Jailer Cole and the o ther alleged acts -- or omissionsnot prohibited by the Praytor order. The district court concluded Sheriff Sutherland was not protected by qualified immunity for violations of Praytor.

[41] "Government officials performing discre tionary functions are e ntitled to qualified immunity 'insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.'" Hartley v. Parnell, 193 F.3d 1263, 1268 (11th Cir. 1999) (quoting Harlow v.

[42] Fitzgerald, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 2738 (1982)). Because Sheriff Sutherland was a cting within his discretionary authority, our inquiry focuses on two questions, "first... whether there is 'an underlying constitutional violation,' [and] second,... whether the law the public official is alleged to have violated was 'clearly estab lished' at the time of incidents giving rise to the suit." Taylor v. Adams, 221 F.3d 1254, 1257 (11th Cir. 2000)(citations omitted).

[43] Relying solely on the Praytor violations, the district court answered both questions "yes." As explained above, this approach was error. The Praytor order did not define, create or enlarge Butler's constitutional rights. Therefore, section 1983 liability cannot be established merely because Praytor's terms were not followed. A constitutional violation can only be established if Sheriff Sutherland's policies w ere adopted with deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of suicide in the jail.

[44] Because Sheriff Sutherland was not at the jail that night and was not involved in the arrest and detention of Butler, his section 1983 liability (like that of the County) must be based solely on his status as a policymaker.*fn11 As discussed in relation to the County's liability, no evidence existed that would indicate to policymakers, such as Sheriff Sutherland, that a strong likelihood of prisoner suicides existed in the Winston County Jail. The jail had no history of suicide, Praytor did not address suicide, and Sheriff Sutherland's own requests for more personnel were not directed at suicide. Because no evidence shows that Sheriff Sutherland was aware of a stro ng risk of suicide at the jail, his policy of only having one nighttime jailer cannot be deliberately indifferent to this risk. See Popham, 908 F.2d at 1565.

[45] Because Sheriff Sutherland did no t act with deliberate indifference to a strong risk of suicide, he did not violate Butler's constitutional rights. Because no underlying constitutional violation exists, Sheriff Sutherland is entitled to summary judgment.

[46] C. Jailer Cole

[47] Cagle proceede d against Jailer Cole based on his failure to ente r the cell and cut down Butler upon finding him and on Cole's failure, in violation of the Praytor order, to check the cells on an hourly basis.*fn12 The district court granted summary judgment to Jailer Cole on his failure to cut Butler down because of qualified immunity. Again relying on Praytor, the district court decided Jailer Cole was not protected by qualified immunity for his failure to complete ho urly checks o f the cells.*fn13

[48] The law on one point is clear: "A prison custodian is not the guarantor of a prisoner's safety." Popham, 908 F.2d at 1564 (citation omitted). "Absent knowledge of a detainee's suicidal tendencies... [the] failure to prevent suicide has never been held to constitute deliberate indifference." Id. Because we presume that Jailer Cole was aware of Butler's suicide threats, we must look to see whether Jailer Cole's acts were deliberately indifferent to this risk.

[49] We c onclude that -- und er the facts o f this case -- Ja iler Cole's allowing one hour and forty minutes to elapse between jail checks w as not deliberately indifferent. Praytor required the ja ilor to check the cells every hour. But Praytor did not establish a constitutional right to hourly jail checks, and Praytor was not focused on preventing suicide.

[50] Jailer Cole was aware that Butler's belt, his shoelaces and the contents of his pockets had been confiscated. Jailer Cole was also aware that Butler's cell had been stripped of implements that might assist suicide. While these facts indicated Butler was a suicide risk, they also decreased the risk. These acts show a lack of deliberate indifference on the part of jail personnel and decreased the likelihood that Butler would commit suicide. See Popham, 908 F.2d at 1564. Jailer Cole was not required to foresee that Butler would hang himself with the elastic from his underwear. *fn14

[51] Furthermore, Jailer Cole did not ignore Butler. He was instructed to watch Butler, and he did. The record reflects that Jailer Cole observe d Butler through the TV monitor at least every 1 5 minutes. Closed circuit TV monitoring reflects concern for a prisoner's welfare and a lack of deliberate indifference. Id. The TV camera reached almost all of the cell.*fn15 "The fac t that the camera did not pick up every corner of the cell might be evidence of negligence, but could hardly demonstrate deliberate indifference." Id.

[52] Assuming that Jailer Cole was aware that Butler had threatened suicide, Cagle points to no evidence establishing that Jailer Cole acted with deliberate indifference to this risk. Jailer Cole did not violate Butler's constitutional rights.*fn16


[54] The Praytor consent decree did not control this case. No defendant was deliberately indifferent to the risk that Butler would commit suicide. The circumstance s, even view ed in Plaintiff's favor, will not support a finding and conclusion of deliberate indifference on the part of Defendants. Butler's constitutional rights were not violated. The district court's order is VACATED and the case is REM ANDED with instructions to enter judgment in favor of Defendants.



Opinion Footnotes


[56] *fn1 Honorable John R. Gibson, United States Circuit Judge for the Eighth Circuit, sitting by designation.

[57] *fn2 The district court amended its order denying Winston County's motion for summary judgment to certify the order for an interlocutory appeal. The district court said the question of whether the constitutional rights of a pretrial detainee can be established by a pre-existing consent decree was a controlling question of law. We granted the petition for an interlocutory appeal. Winston County v. Cagle, No 02-90027 (11th Cir. July 5, 2002) (order granting permission to appeal) Sheriff Sutherland and Jailer Cole may appeal without a section 1292(b) certification because their motions raised the defense of qualified immunity. "The district court's rejection of a qualified immunity defense is a 'final decision under the collateral order doctrine over which this court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291.'" Brent v. Ashley, 247 F.3d 1294, 1298 n.3(11th Cir. 2001) (quoting Harris v. Board of Educ., 105 F.3d 591, 594 (11th Cir.1997)). Although both the County's appeal and Sutherland and Cole's appeal arose from the same litigation and both appeals are from the same order, they came to us as different cases. Because the cases are related and contain similar issues, we have consolidated them for the purposes of this opinion.

[58] *fn3 The Carbon Hill City Jail is not the same jail as the one in this case and is not controlled by any defendant in this case.

[59] *fn4 No defendant in this case is associated with the Carbon Hill police department.

[60] *fn5 Jailer Cole claims that he was unaware of Butler's suicide threats and thought he was just supposed to watch Butler because he was intoxicated. Officer Taylor said he told Jailer Cole about the threats. The district court presumed that Jailer Cole was aware that Butler was a suicide risk for the sake of deciding the issue at summary judgment. The district court noted that Jailer Cole was instructed to check on Butler frequently, that he was aware Butler had been placed in Cell One where he could be observed via a video camera, that potentially dangerous items had been removed from the cell, and that Butler's belt and shoelaces had been taken. We agree with the district court's conclusion that it was reasonable to infer Jailer Cole was aware of the suicide risk. At the summary judgment stage, we make reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. For the purpose of deciding Jailer Cole's appeal, we will infer that Jailer Cole was aware Butler was a suicide risk.

[61] *fn6 Sheriff Sutherland twice had asked the County Commission to provide funding for an additional nighttime jailer. The first request was made in 1995 as a response to a jailbreak. This request was denied. The second request was made in September 1998 because Sheriff Sutherland was concerned about escapes. This request was still pending before the Commission when Butler committed suicide. Funding was eventually granted.

[62] *fn7 Jailer Cole also testified that he performed a check at 10:30 p.m. and found Butler sitting on the mattress smoking a cigarette. This check was not recorded in the jailer's log book. At the summary judgment stage, disputed facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See Dolihite v. Maughon, 74 F.3d 1027, 1040 (11th Cir. 1996). For the purpose of this appeal, we will assume that Jailer Cole did not perform a check between 9:00 and 10:46 p.m.

[63] *fn8 Jailer Cole did not attempt to cut down Butler because the Winston County Sheriff's policy prevents anyone from entering a jail cell without backup. The policy exists to prevent inmates from attempting to escape by faking suicide or another medical emergency.

[64] *fn9 Cagle does not appeal, and we decide nothing about, the grant of summary judgment to Chief Deputy Wright and Deputy Kirkpatrick.

[65] *fn10 Consent decrees are court orders and can readily be enforced by contempt citations and the court's inherent powers. Consent decrees are not automatically enforceable through civil actions under section 1983. Because consent decrees are enforceable through contempt, little need exists to allow suits under section 1983. C.f. Middlesex County Sewerage Authority v. National Sea Clammers Assoc., 101 S.Ct. 2615, 2626 (1981)("When the remedial devices provided in a particular Act are sufficiently comprehensive, they may suffice to demonstrate congressional intent to preclude the remedy of suits under § 1983.").

[66] *fn11 Because Sheriff Sutherland is only liable based on his status as a policymaker, he cannot be liable for Jailer Cole's failure to check the cells every hour. The record clearly indicates that Sheriff Sutherland had an unwritten policy of hourly cell checks. In her brief, Cagle concedes this hourly check was the policy.

[67] *fn12 Whether Jailer Cole was instructed to check the jail every hour or every two hours is disputed. Chief Deputy Wright claims he told Jailer Cole to check the jail every hour consistent with Sheriff Sutherland's policy; Jailer Cole claims he was instructed to check the jail every two hours. For the sake of deciding Jailer Cole's appeal, we will presume that Jailer Cole was instructed to check the jail every hour.

[68] *fn13 Cagle argues that Jailer Cole should not be entitled to qualified immunity because he was not performing a discretionary function. She claims he had no discretion on when to check the jail. But, we have said that "a government official can prove he acted within the scope of his discretionary authority by showing 'objective circumstances which would compel the conclusion that his actions were undertaken pursuant to the performance of his duties and within the scope of his authority.'" Rich v. Dollar, 841 F.2d 1558, 1564 (11th Cir. 1988)(quoting Baker v. Norman, 651 F.2d 1107, 1121 (5th Cir. 1981)). Jailer Cole was performing his duties within the scope of his authority, and the district court did not err when it determined that he was acting within his discretionary authority.

[69] *fn14 We do not know of -- and the parties do not cite -- any case where another inmate anywhere had committed suicide in the unusual way that Butler did.

[70] *fn15 In Jailer Cole's deposition, Cagle's lawyer questioned Jailer Cole on how much of the cell was seen by the camera. Q: Could the camera see all of the cell? A: It could see almost all of the cell. Q: What part of the cell could it not see? A: It could not see just below the top bunk on the -- if you're facing the cell, the left-hand side of the cell. Q: So if someone were in the bottom bunk on the left-hand side of the cell, you could not observe that person? A: You could see them, you just could not see maybe from their mid section up if they had been sitting up. If they were laying down, you could observe pretty much every bit of them. Q: Okay. A: But if they were sitting up with their back against the wall, you could see them and see their movements as far as their hands and feet, but as far as from somewhere midways up, you could not see their face, no. Q: From about their waist or their hips up? A: Yes.

[71] *fn16 Even if Jailer Cole had violated the Constitution, he likely would be entitled to qualified immunity, having violated no clearly established constitutional rights. We are not aware of any of our cases or any case from the United States or Alabama Supreme Courts that would have put Jailer Cole on notice that his acts, given the circumstances, were clearly unconstitutional. Praytor does not do the job; a consent decree like Praytor cannot establish constitutional rights, and obviously it cannot clearly establish constitutional rights. A precedent with materially similar facts is not always required; but for a federal right to be clearly established, the applicable law "'must be sufficiently clear that a reasonable official would understand that what he is doing violates that right.'" Hope v. Pelzer, 122 S.Ct. 2508, 2515 (2002)(quoting Anderson v. Creighton, 107 S.Ct. 3034, 3039 (1987)). Here, if Jailer Cole examined the precedents he could reasonably conclude that his conduct -- monitoring via TV cameras (and visiting the cell, at least once, during each hour of the night) an inmate who had been stripped of his belt, shoelaces and so on, and confined in a stripped cell -- was reasonable and was not nearly deliberately indifferent. See Popham, 908 F.2d at 1564. Even if we were to determine that the Constitution required more then Jailer Cole did, we could not say that requirement was already clearly established.