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$345,000 Settlement in Michigan Detainee’s Suicide

$345,000 Settlement in Michigan Detainee’s Suicide

by David M. Reutter

A $345,000 settlement was reached between Wayne County, Michigan, the City of Detroit and the estate of a prisoner who committed suicide at the Wayne County Jail (WCJ).

Jason L. Smith was arrested on April 29, 2009 and booked into WCJ on assault charges, including a sexual assault on his mother that occurred the night before. Documentation from the Harper Woods Police Department (HWPD) stated that Gloria Smith said her son had threatened to kill himself if she reported his crime.

While in the custody of HWPD, Jason was “clearly and definitively identified and designated as a suicide risk.” However, his placement on suicide watch ended when HWPD transferred him to WCJ, where he was formally charged and held on $1 million bond.

Despite being given documentation and notice of Smith’s risk of suicide, which included a previous suicide attempt while in the custody of the Roseville Police Department in November 2007, WCJ classified him as “maximum security” and placed him on lockdown without any mental health treatment.

For the next six days, Smith kept to himself and was visibly depressed. Another prisoner as well as Smith filed medical requests stating that Smith was crying every day; in fact, his request said he thought he was “going to hurt myself or others.” He sought treatment for his depression.

Two days after that request, Smith was allowed out of his cell for an hour of recreation. A video camera recorded him sitting at the end of a table as he tied his bed sheet into a noose. He stepped out of the camera’s view holding the noose. Almost immediately afterwards, a fellow prisoner yelled for help as he heard Smith choking while hanging from the sheet that was tied to a bar over a shower stall.

Jail staff arrived and unsuccessfully tried to revive Smith. He died later that day, on May 7, 2009, at a local hospital. His estate sued Wayne County and the City of Detroit in 2010; the city’s liability was related to actions by EMS personnel.

The parties ultimately reached a settlement that was approved by the federal district court; Wayne County paid $325,000 to resolve the case and the City of Detroit paid $20,000. The settlement included $33,000 in sanctions assessed against the defendants for discovery-related issues. Smith’s estate was represented by the law firm of Goodman and Hurwitz, P.C. See: Smith v. Wayne County, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Mich.), Case No. 2:10-cv-14257-NGE-DRG.


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Related legal case

Smith v. Wayne County