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$350,000 Settlement in Pennsylvania Prisoner’s Suicide

$350,000 Settlement in Pennsylvania Prisoner’s Suicide

by David Reutter

A $350,000 settlement was reportedly reached in the 2007 suicide of a prisoner at Pennsylvania’s Blair County Prison (BCP). The settlement included the prisoner’s personal physician as well as county defendants.

Following an injury to his right leg in 2002, Nathan Aughenbaugh was given pain medication. From that point forward he developed a history of substance addiction and mental health issues, including depression, panic disorder and multiple suicide attempts.

A lawsuit filed after his death alleged an improper relationship between Aughenbaugh and his doctor, Jerome DeJulia, as some of the pain medication that Aughenbaugh received from DeJulia was not recorded in his medical records.

In several instances, DeJulia continued to provide Aughenbaugh with “significant amounts of narcotics” despite other doctors recommending that he “should be weaned from narcotics.” DeJulia continued to administer the drugs even after Aughenbaugh attempted suicide multiple times.

In June 2007, Aughenbaugh entered a guilty plea to a charge of driving under the influence of prescription, resulting in a sentence of house arrest. Shortly afterwards he cut his head and disappeared. His father called a crisis line and Aughenbaugh was hospitalized as his family sought involuntary commitment to prevent him from harming himself.

Dr. DeJulia intervened, telling the hospital that if Aughenbaugh was properly medicated he was not a suicide risk. Due to a probation violation because he had absconded from house arrest, Aughenbaugh was taken to BCP.

His intake screening noted a mental health history, history of drug and alcohol abuse, and thoughts of killing himself because Aughenbaugh told the transport officer he had attempted suicide the day before; he was overly anxious, appeared to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and showed signs of withdrawal or mental illness.

Based upon the intake screening, Aughenbaugh was placed on a level I suicide watch at BCP, which resulted in placement in a cell for observation without bed sheets or other items that could be used in a suicide attempt. On June 22, 2007, he was downgraded to a level II suicide watch with 30-minute checks.

Jennifer Feathers, a forensic specialist who was not a psychiatrist, psychologist or any other type of licensed mental health professional, approved Aughenbaugh to be placed in general population on a level III watch several days later. She spoke to Dr. DeJulia on June 27, and was told that Aughenbaugh would be stable with medication.

The next day, on June 28, 2007, Aughenbaugh, 27, was found dead after he used a bed sheet to hang himself.

Aughenbaugh’s estate filed a wrongful death suit in 2009; represented by attorney Devon Jacob, it reached a settlement with Dr. DeJulia, Tyrone Medical Associates (DeJulia’s employer), Blair County and Jennifer Feathers. According to Jacob’s profile, the case settled for $350,000. See: Aughenbaugh v. DeJulia, U.S.D.C. (W.D. Penn.), Case No. 3:09-cv-00159-KRG.

Additional source: The Altoona Mirror

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Related legal case

Aughenbaugh v. DeJulia