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$140,000 Settlement in Washington Jail Detainee’s Suicide

Pierce County, Washington has paid $120,000 to settle a federal lawsuit that claimed its policies were deliberately indifferent to the risk of suicide by pretrial detainees at the Pierce County Detention and Corrections Center (PCDCC). The City of Lakewood paid an additional $20,000 to settle the case.

The suit was filed by Ralph Close, father of James Close, who had been arrested for bank robbery. After Ralph pro-vided authorities with details concerning his son’s role in the robbery, they conducted a home search and obtained a confession from James.

In making the June 16, 2006 arrest, detectives noted that James suffered from mental problems, had a history of suicide attempts and exhibited signs of depression. Under other remarks it was noted in capital letters that James “has at-tempted suicide in the past. May be bipolar. Became very angry after confessing.” At the top of the form in large bold print the report stated, “Suicide watch.”

Despite that information, James was not referred for mental health care or placed on suicide watch after the booking process at PCDCC. Instead he was taken to a two-man cell, where his cellmate was not present at the time. Several hours later the cellmate was escorted back to the cell, and Close was found hanging from a bed sheet without a pulse.

The lawsuit against Pierce County alleged deficient nurse staffing, failure to perform mental health screening and evaluations, and lack of training that resulted in Close’s preventable suicide. The case settled for a total of $140,000 from the county and city defendants, and was dismissed by joint motion of the parties on February 25, 2010. Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor issued a letter of apology for Close’s death. The plaintiffs were represented by the Seattle law firm of McDonald, Hogue and Bayless. See: Close v. Pierce County, U.S.D.C. (W.D. Wash.), Case No. 3:09-cv-05023-RBL.

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Related legal case

Close v. Pierce County