A Montana jury found that Fergus County and the Fergus County Sheriff’s department was partially negligent in a prisoner’s suicide. It awarded the prisoner’s estate nearly $80,000.
Carl Odell Stacy, 40, was no stranger to officials at the Fergus County Jail (FCJ). In 2006, he was booked into FCJ and repeatedly told jail staff that he was going to hang himself.
“He wasn’t an unknown entity. He had a past history of trying to kill himself when he was in jail,” Torger Oaas, the estate’s attorney, told the jury during closing arguments. “Carl was mentally ill and they knew that. Carl had ADHD and depression. It was all over their paperwork.”
Stacy entered FCJ on January 3, 2011, to serve a seven-day sentence. Less than 38 hours later, he was found hanging from a sheet tied to his cell’s door handle. Oaas argued jail staff failed to follow their own procedures and denied Stacy’s request for medical care. The County’s attorney, Maureen Lennon, argued Stacey was purposely manipulating his diabetes in an attempt to get out of jail early.
On two occasions, Stacy took three to four times his prescribed insulin dose. The testimony at the weeklong trial also showed that after the first dose, he told the booking officer, “It’s a suicide thing. You go into a coma. That’s not such a bad way to go.”
His blood sugar was about three times its normal level when Stacy took the second dose; it made him start to act strangely. Guards found him lying naked in his cell’s shower and unresponsive; he leaned against the wall shaking. Later, he was found lying partially under his bunk.
Guards continued to check his blood sugar, but they did not initially seek medical advice. They were told later by a medical professional to continue the monitoring and to give Stacy a sandwich if his level became too low.
A recorded phone call the night before he died captured Stacy telling his mother he was going to “drop a sheet,” meaning, he was going to hang himself. Although he assured his mother he wouldn’t kill himself, she called FCJ to alert them. She was told no guards were available, and someone would return her call. It was never returned.
A guard, Josh Otto, testified that at around 11 P.M. he was able to calm Stacy down and assured him staff would watch over him. Still, Stacy told Otto, “I’m going to hang myself later.”
A 15 minute medical watch was placed on Stacy when he was returned to his cell. Yet, a video tape showed the guard checked on him only once between 1 A.M. and 4 A.M. During a gap of checks between 5:11 A.M. and 5:47 A.M., Stacy hanged himself.
In a November 2, 2012, verdict, the jury found Fergus County 53% negligent for Stacy’s death. It awarded his estate $4,500 in funeral expenses and $45,000 in past and future grief and sorrow suffered by his mother. See: Stacy v. Fergus County, Montana Tenth Judicial District Court, Case No DV-2011-40.
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