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Florida Prisoner’s Suicide Suit Settles for $500,000

A $500,000 settlement has been reached in a lawsuit stemming from the 2006 suicide of an 18-year-old Florida prisoner. The suit was filed by the parents and estate of Aleshia Napier against the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC), two private medical contractors and a prison psychiatrist.

While at the Lowell Correctional Institution on September 15, 2006, Napier made a serious suicide attempt by setting her sheets on fire after hearing voices telling her to kill herself. She received an emergency transfer to the Crisis Stabilization Unit (CSU) at Broward Correctional Institution.

Upon her initial reception into the FDOC, Napier was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and depression with psychotic aspects, plus mood swings. Her suicide profile revealed a history of suicidal ideations and twelve different suicide attempts, including three occasions in the two years preceding her arrest and incarceration that resulted in involuntary psychiatric hospitalization.

Napier was placed on suicide observation status in the CSU upon her arrival at Broward on September 18, 2006. While FDOC policy states prisoners typically spend 15 to 30 days in the CSU, Napier was discharged by Dr. Alejandro Urrutia only three days later. She was then placed in solitary confinement, which is known to have “deteriorative effects” on mentally ill prisoners.

That same day Napier declared a psychological emergency and reported suicidal ideations. From September 21 to October 18, 2006 she was transferred from the CSU to solitary confinement as a result of reporting a desire to harm herself and increased feelings of depression and ambivalence. Despite her mental health history and recurring reports of suicidal thoughts, Napier was not referred to a high level of psychiatric care and was continually returned to solitary confinement.

“[T]he Defendants were more interested in quickly moving patients in and out of suicide observation status cells than in treating and observing them,” stated the complaint in a subsequent lawsuit.

Napier was found hanging from a sheet suspended from her bunk bed post on October 31, 2006, and was later pronounced dead. From the time of her release from solitary confinement on October 18, 2006 until her death, she was seen by a mental health professional only twice.

The health care at Broward had been contracted out to Prison Health Services (PHS), which subcontracted with MHM Correctional Services, Inc. to provide and manage all mental health care to prisoners. During mediation on March 28, 2011, MHM agreed to pay $500,000 to settle the lawsuit. The FDOC, PHS and Dr. Urrutia were released as defendants and the suit was dismissed in exchange for the settlement.

Each party was responsible for its attorney fees and costs. The plaintiffs were represented by Randall C. Berg, Jr. with the Florida Justice Institute. See: Napier v. Florida Department of Corrections, U.S.D.C. (S.D. Fla.), Case No. 0:09-cv-61158-PAS.

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Related legal case

Napier v. Florida Department of Corrections