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Michigan Prisoner’s Suicide Under Investigation; Lawsuit Filed

by David Reutter

A Michigan prison guard has been criminally charged following an investigation into her role in a prisoner’s suicide – an investigation that also resulted in a federal lawsuit and an admission of misconduct from the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC).

Janika Edmond, 25, was serving a sentence of 17 months to 4 years at the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility near Ann Arbor. Her sentence was imposed after a probation violation for failing a drug test and an assault on a jail guard following her arrest.

While in prison, Edmond experienced a marked increase in disruptive behavior, ranging from insolence to fighting and creating disturbances. She had one high-level incident between May and September 2013; 11 between September 2013 and June 2014; and 28 from June 2014 to June 2015. Her probation violation report predicted that such behavior would occur.

“She does not feel incarceration is appropriate because it just makes her more hostile and therefore, more assaultive,” the report stated.

Prison medical staff treated Edmond’s mental health issues with Zoloft and Seroquel, medications used for major depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. She repeatedly tried to harm herself and was put on suicide watch multiple times. After a broken razor was found in her cell in 2015, she told officials she was “tired of being here” and hearing voices. She was placed in a segregation shower area on November 2, 2015, where she requested a suicide prevention vest, also known as a “bam-bam.”

MDOC policy requires staff to respond immediately to life-threatening suicidal behavior and treat it as a medical emergency. A prisoner who engages in or threatens suicidal behavior must be placed on unrestricted face-to-face visual observation in an observation room, the policy states. Also, their clothing must be taken away and replaced with a tear-resistant suicide prevention garment or vest.

“She not only did not receive one, but the guard made light of the request,” said Detroit attorney David S. Steingold, who represents Edmond’s family.

Reports obtained from the Michigan State Police (MSP) by the Ann Arbor News stated that prison guard Dianna Callahan made “a bet, jokingly, with another guard” – identified as Kory Moore – that Edmond would ask for the suicide prevention vest. The bet was reportedly for a Subway sandwich. The MSP report added that Callahan may have “pumped her fist” and said “somebody owes me lunch” in response to Edmond’s request for the vest. [See: PLN, Dec. 2016, p. 19].

Pursuant to MDOC policy, Edmond should have been referred to a qualified mental health professional no later than the end of the workday. But shortly after she was placed in the shower, she was found “laying [sic] on her back with two torn pieces of fabric tied around her neck and blood at the back of her head,” stated an internal prison report. The torn fabric came from Edmond’s bra, which she had used to hang herself, and guards had apparently ignored choking sounds coming from the shower area. She was transported to a hospital where she was pronounced brain dead several days later.

After Edmond’s death, Callahan and Moore were placed on “stop order,” according to MDOC spokesperson Chris Gautz. That meant they were not allowed in the prison but remained on paid suspension pending an internal investigation.

The MDOC completed its review in March 2016 and fired both Callahan and Moore. The Michigan State Police then opened its own investigation into Edmond’s death and, as a result, Callahan was arraigned in December 2016 on charges of involuntary manslaughter and willful neglect of duty.

However, Moore was reinstated that same month after a successful union arbitration process. Washtenaw County Chief Deputy Assistant Prosecutor Steve Hiller said no charges were being pursued against Moore.

If convicted of involuntary manslaughter, a felony, Callahan faces a maximum of 15 years in prison and a $7,500 fine, and up to one year and a $1,000 fine for the misdemeanor charge. She would be eligible for probation on both counts.

Callahan was allowed to post a personal bond of $5,000, according to court records. Her attorney, William Hatchett, said she will fight the charges.

The MDOC has since admitted it was wrong for failing to immediately notify the State Police of Edmond’s death. In fact, MSP reports indicate the police did not learn about the suicide until they were contacted by the office of the Washtenaw County Medical Examiner, which assumed – incorrectly – that MSP had already been informed and a trooper was assigned to the case. In the ensuing bureaucratic mix-up, MSP was delayed in starting its investigation by four months.

“We think it’s clear that the referral [to MSP] should have been made,” said MDOC spokesperson Gautz, adding that the department would be reviewing its policies.

Meanwhile, Steingold and another Detroit attorney, Cary McGehee, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the MDOC on behalf of Edmond’s family on February 17, 2017. The suit names as defendants the department and 14 current or former prison officials, including Warden Anthony Stewart, and alleges violations of Edmond’s constitutional rights, failure to train and supervise, and failure to provide accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Notwithstanding the obvious criminal implications,” and contrary to MDOC policy, the complaint also notes that prison officials did not promptly notify the MSP about Edmond’s death. Further, they “intentionally engaged in behavior intended to obstruct the MSP investigation” by failing to promptly provide the police and medical examiner with a “critical incident report,” by failing to preserve the potential crime scene and evidence, and by “refusing to cooperate with the MSP’s efforts to obtain evidence, requiring it to obtain a search warrant.”

Both the criminal charges against Callahan and the wrongful death suit remain pending. See: Clarke v. MDOC, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Mich.), Case No. 2:17-cv-10528-RHC-DRG. 

 

Sources: www.mlive.com, Detroit Free Press, www.thedailybeast.com

Related legal case

Clarke v. MDOC


 

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