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Oregon Juvenile Who Attempted Suicide Settles Negligence Suit for $192,500

An Oregon juvenile offender has settled a negligence suit against county officials for $192,500. In June 2010, Michael J. Stephens, 16, was detained at Lane County’s John Serbu Youth Campus in Eugene, Oregon. He was on suicide watch due to “extreme emotional disturbance and temporary mental illness,” according to his mother.

When an employee left him unattended, Stephens walked out of his room, climbed nearby stairs to the second floor and threw himself over a railing. He landed on his head and shoulders, and sustained “catastrophic injuries” that will cause him to permanently suffer from pain, discomfort and disability.

Stephens and his family sued the county and an unnamed employee for negligence, seeking $2 million. “It was mind-bogglingly inattentive” to leave Stephens unattended while he was on suicide watch, said Greg Kafoury, one of the family’s attorneys.

County officials agreed to settle the lawsuit in April 2011 for $192,500; the county also agreed to pay $10,000 to the Oregon Department of Human Services to resolve possible claims for the state’s expenses in treating Stephens’ injuries. See: Stephens v. Lane County, Lane County Circuit Court (OR), Case No. 16-10-13405.

In an unrelated incident, on January 3, 2011, 33-year-old Gene Preston Stewart was detained at the Douglas County Jail in Roseburg, Oregon on a probation violation. While being escorted back to his cell from a court appearance, Stewart climbed over a barrier and leaped from the third tier, falling to a concrete floor about 40 feet below.

He was rushed by ambulance to a hospital emergency room. Two days later, he was listed in fair condition with a broken pelvis and elbow. Jail staff were uncertain whether Stewart’s jump was a suicide attempt.

“I have been here 17 years, and this is the first person that I believe we have ever had jump off the tiers,” said jail commander Mike Root.

PLN recently reported another case involving an Alaskan prisoner who jumped to his death from a second-tier balcony at an Anchorage jail. [See: PLN, Sept. 2011, p.41].

Sources: The Register-Guard, The News-Review,, The Oregonian

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Related legal case

Stephens v. Lane County