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Police Chief Only Responsible If He Knows Danger Of Jail Suicide; Jury Award Vacated

On March 10, 1989, the Appellate Court of Illinois held that a police chief could not be held responsible for a jail suicide even if the chief promulgated a policy of not giving intoxicated arrestees a medical examination prior to incarcerating them in a cell and even if the police knew the arrestee was both intoxicated and violent.

While under the influence of alcohol and metaqualone David Capodagli, 19, was arrested by City of Markham, Illinois, police. Without any medical examination, he was placed in a jail cell. An hour later his body was discovered hanging from his tank top t-shirt.

Lillian R. Capodagli, administrator of David's estate, filed a civil rights action in state court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the Markham Chief of Police had a policy which permitted intoxicated arrestees to be placed in a cell without having first undergone a medical examination and allowed intoxicated prisoners to be left in a cell without periodic observation. She alleged that these policies deprived David of his life without due process in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

A jury returned a verdict in her favor and awarded the estate $375,000 in damages. The court entered a judgment notwithstanding the verdict in defendant's favor. Plaintiff appealed.

The Appellate Court of Illinois, First District, Fifth Division, held that, although trial evidence showed that David was violent, intoxicated, and disorderly, there was no evidence that the defendant had any knowledge of or reason to suspect suicidal tendencies as would be required to prevail in this lawsuit. Furthermore, neither the defendant's failure to establish a policy requiring medical examinations for intoxicated arrestees nor the jailers' disregarding of a policy to perform a cell check every half hour constituted deliberate indifference to David's safety or well being as would be required to prevail in this lawsuit. Therefore, the court of appeals upheld the trial court's granting of judgment notwithstanding the verdict. See: Capodagli v. Wilson, 180 Ill.App.3d 456; 536 N.E.2d 135; (1989).

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Related legal case

Capodagli v. Wilson