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No Liability for Shooting Suicidal, Armed Jail Prisoner

The plaintiff was arrested and tried to kill himself. He was handcuffed to a wall on the police station booking area for observation, and set fire to his clothing while so restrained. He expressed more suicidal thoughts at the hospital where his burns were treated. He could not be placed in a mental hospital because of his pending charges until he was arraigned, and the hospital refused to keep him overnight because they didn't have inpatient psychiatric capabilities and they were afraid of him. So he was returned to the police station and again handcuffed to the "suicide wall," where he lit his shirt on fire and was then stripped. Shortly thereafter he grabbed a gun from an officer's holster and shot the officer and another prisoner; he was shot in the arm by another officer.

The New England Medical Center's program which determined that the plaintiff should be sent to a mental hospital which would not take him could not be sued for medical malpractice because it didn't have a provider-patient relationship with him and wasn't responsible for the decision not to place him in a mental hospital.

The plaintiff's excessive force claim should be analyzed under the Fourteenth Amendment because he was a "post-arrest, pre-trial detainee" (81). The court applies the Johnson v. Glick standard and holds that the plaintiff has no claim, since there was a clear need for force, only one shot was fired at him, he had a relatively minor injury considering he had shot two people, and there is no evidence of bad faith, malice or sadism. The earlier behavior of another officer in letting the plaintiff grab a gun is irrelevant.

There was no claim against the City for failure to have adequate policies for managing suicidal prisoners; the fact that the policies did not cover the particular circumstances of the case does not establish a policy of deliberate indifference.

I believe this is the first prisoner case I have seen decided by Judge Lasker since his departure from New York. See: Garcia v. City of Boston, 115 F.Supp.2d 74 (D.Mass. 2000) (Lasker, J.).

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Related legal case

Garcia v. City of Boston