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Lawsuit Over Suicide of Oregon Prisoner Settles for $100,000

Lawsuit Over Suicide of Oregon Prisoner Settles for $100,000

by Mark Wilson

The mother of an autistic Oregon prisoner who committed suicide shortly before his scheduled release accepted $100,000 to settle her suit against state prison officials.

As previously reported in Prison Legal News, Richard Gifford, 22, suffered from “a pervasive developmental disorder, or autism spectrum disorder,” along with a cognitive disorder and possible oppositional defiant disorder. [See: PLN,May 2013, p.24].

He began serving a five-month sentence in the custody of the Oregon Department of Corrections in late 2009, and was transferred to the Oregon State Penitentiary (OSP) on January 3, 2010.

Within “four months at OSP, he was charged with 14 incidents of misconduct,” his mother alleged. Gifford was confined in segregation for all but 12 days between December 25, 2009 and May 5, 2010.

Despite being scheduled for release on May 15, 2010, Gifford sent goodbye letters to his family and the family dog in April. “The letters described psychotic episodes and stated that he was going to die in custody,” according to the lawsuit. “He told his younger brother that now he would be in charge. His letter to the family dog stated that he was not going to be able to bring him a bone.”

Ten days before his release, Gifford was found dead in his segregation cell; an autopsy determined his death was due to “intravenous injection of undetermined drug or toxin.”

On December 19, 2011, Gifford’s mother, Deborah, and his estate filed a federal complaint against prison officials, alleging deliberate indifference to his serious mental health needs and violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The lawsuit was amended in 2013 to allege that Gifford had obtained the drug he used to kill himself through the prison’s contraband drug network. It also claimed that it was easier to obtain drugs inside OSP than it was outside of prison.

Deborah Gifford subsequently entered into a settlement agreement with the state to resolve all of her claims, including costs and attorney fees, for $100,000. As part of the settlement, the state did not admit any wrongdoing and Gifford and her attorney, Lynn Walsh, agreed not to make any statements to the contrary. See: Gifford v. Oregon, U.S.D.C. (D. Ore.), Case No. 6:11-cv-06417-TC.


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Related legal case

Gifford v. Oregon