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$50,000 Settlement for Prisoner’s Suicide at Iowa County Jail

$50,000 Settlement for Prisoner’s Suicide at Iowa County Jail

by Gary Hunter

Black Hawk County and NaphCare, Inc. have agreed to pay equal shares of a $50,000 settlement to the estate of a prisoner who hanged himself at the county jail.

Michael Adair had an 18-year history of mental illness, including a number of attempted suicides. He was drawing SSI disability payments for his mental condition, had been in and out of mental institutions, and was taking psychotropic medications at the time of his death. He had been held at the Black Hawk County jail for over a year awaiting trial on a burglary charge; security and medical staff were well aware of his mental health problems.

Adair, 33, committed suicide on January 20, 2011. Almost two years later, attorney Thomas Frerichs filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 civil rights action in federal district court against Black Hawk County and Sheriff Tony Thompson for violations of Adair’s rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. The laundry list of violations accused the jail of failing to provide adequate suicide prevention measures, failing to provide adequate medical and mental health care, inferior screening procedures and inadequate physician oversight. The complaint noted that the jail presented “substantial barriers” for prisoners to access mental health services, that solitary confinement was improperly used for mentally ill prisoners, and that the jail “presented unreasonable opportunities for its inmates such as Michael Adair to injure themselves and commit suicide.”

The lawsuit cited four causes of action that included denial of medical care and deliberate indifference resulting in Adair’s physical pain, mental anguish and emotional distress. The second cause alleged the jail had an unlawful policy, custom and habit “of providing woefully inadequate medical and mental healthcare” to prisoners. Negligence, the third cause of action, claimed that “deputies and nurses failed to exercise” adequate skill, care and knowledge in treating Adair.

The final cause of action was on behalf of Adair’s two sons, Caleb and Isaiah, for loss of parental consortium with a “wanton disregard for the rights, needs, and feelings” of his children. The suit requested general damages, special damages, punitive damages, court costs and attorney fees.

Before the case went to trial, Black Hawk County and the jail’s medical provider, NaphCare, Inc., which was not named as a defendant, agreed to pay $25,000 each to settle the lawsuit.

Adair’s wife, Merri J. Arms-Adair, agreed that the settlement would include all attorney fees and costs. See: Arms-Adair v. Black Hawk County,U.S.D.C. (N.D. Iowa), Case No. 6:13-cv-02008-JSS.

In a similar case involving a prisoner’s suicide at the jail, Black Hawk County had previously paid a $300,000 settlement in March 2003. David Price, who had a history of mental illness and suicidal tendencies, received no mental health care and hanged himself with a bed sheet on December 17, 1997. See: Greiner v. Black Hawk County, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Iowa), Case No. 6:00-cv-2008-EJM.


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Related legal cases

Arms-Adair v. Black Hawk County

Greiner v. Black Hawk County