Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Federal Suit Over Wisconsin Suicide Attempt Settles for Millions

On February 22, 2007, a lawsuit against employees of the Monroe County Jail in Wisconsin settled for between $6,100,000 and $13,100,000. The suit alleged deliberate indifference in a suicide attempt that left a prisoner permanently disabled

In 2002, Brenda Mombourquette was on probation for possessing the narcotic painkiller Oxycontin without a prescription. In September of that year, Mombourquette, 42, was imprisoned in the Monroe County Jail for violating the terms of her probation. During intake Mombourquette told jail nurse Jeanne Reinart that she was taking the drug Zoloft to combat depression. She also told Reinart that she had seen jail lieutenant David Schaldach take another female prisoner into a conference room to receive oral sex.

Mombourquette was released from jail soon thereafter, but was arrested and placed in the jail a second time in October 2002 for again possessing Oxycontin without a prescription. Mombourquette told Lieutenant Schaldach that she was really depressed and feared losing her children. Schaldach took her into a conference room, sat close to her and took her hands in his, at which point Mombourquette said, ?What the hell is going on??
Schaldach left her alone at that point and reported that Mombourquette had made suicidal statements. She was transferred to an observation cell but still managed to cut her wrists and throat with the lens from her eyeglasses. Mombourquette was transported to a hospital and treated for her injuries. While there she tried to hang herself with a bedsheet.
Doctors released Mombourquette back to the jail a few days later but recommended that she be placed on suicide watch.

Once she returned to the jail, Mombourquette was placed in a regular cell. Several days later she again attempted to hang herself with a bedsheet. This time jailers found her dangling unconscious; Mombourquette was resuscitated, but not before suffering severe, permanent brain damage from lack of oxygen (anoxic encephalopathy). Due to the brain damage Mombourquette is substantially unable to communicate, confined to a wheelchair, and resides permanently in a nursing home.

The plaintiffs, Mombourquette?s guardian and her two minor children, filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin alleging that deliberate indifference exhibited by jailers had violated Mombourquette?s rights under the Eighth Amendment. The plaintiffs did not sue the county, but rather named various jail employees in their individual capacities and Sheriff Charles Amundson in his individual and supervisory capacity.

Each of the defendants moved for summary judgment, but Judge Barbara B. Crabb denied the motions. Judge Crabb first noted that the jail supervisor had informed the sheriff of numerous problems at the jail, including cell checks not being performed as scheduled and possible sexual misconduct with prisoners. When told of Mombourquette?s claim about Lieutenant Schaldach?s having sex with prisoners, Judge Crabb found it undisputed that Sheriff Amundson responded, ?This is what we have insurance for.?

The judge further noted that evidence regarding Mombourquette?s allegations of sexual misconduct against Schaldach could be introduced because it showed a motive for him to have an intentional disregard for her safety. Finally, Judge Crabb held the defendants were not entitled to qualified immunity.

As a final blow to any hope the defendants had of winning at trial, Judge Crabb ruled in her last pre-trial conference that testimony by defendants? psychiatry and police science experts ? that the jail employees were not deliberately indifferent ? was inadmissible because there was no scientific evidence for their conclusions.

As such, the defendants? insurer agreed to settle the case by paying $6,100,000 to Mombourquette?s guardianship estate if she dies within 13 years and up to $13,100,000 if she survives longer than that time period.
The plaintiffs were represented by Michael J. Devanie of the LaCrosse, Wisconsin, law firm Devanie & Belzer. See: Mombourquette v. Amundson, USDC WD WI, Case No. 05-C-0748-C.

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

Mombourquette v. Amundson