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Georgia Teen’s Suicide from Neglect Results in $1.7 Million Settlement

A settlement was reached last year in a lawsuit brought by the estate of a teenager who hanged himself at a Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) facility. The complaint described a chilling account of neglect of a child known to be a suicide risk.

The suit was brought by the parents of 14-year-old J.D., who was “grossly mistreated and kept in deplorable conditions” at the Metro Regional Youth Detention Center (Metro RYDC).

The DJJ reportedly had a long history of “egregious conditions constituting constitutional violations.”

On February 13, 1998, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a report on its investigation into the DJJ. It found “inadequate suicide prevention, inadequate supervision, overcrowded conditions, unsafe conditions, failure to provide adequate mental health care, abusive disciplinary practices, physical abuse by staff and numerous other violations.” As a result, the agency entered into an agreement to end the violations.

As of February 2014, however, the DJJ had not come into compliance; in fact, the details of J.D.’s death revealed that deficient practices were still extant in 2015.

J.D. was received at Metro RYDC on February 23, 2015 and labeled as a level 2 suicide risk. Between March 10, 2015 and April 5, 2015, he attempted to kill himself five times and threatened suicide another time. Each of the times prior to his successful suicide, staff intervened and acted to defuse the situation.

J.D. was seen by a staff member on April 2 with a sheet tied around his neck, standing on a sink in the process of attaching the sheet to a sprinkler. Due to that incident, he was placed in solitary confinement on April 3 and denied exercise, leisure time and even a shower in violation of facility policies. The water in his cell was turned off, so he did not even have a functioning toilet.

Policy required J.D. to be removed from solitary within 24 hours and that he receive an evaluation. As of April 5, 2015, neither had occurred. On that morning J.D. knew he should have been released from confinement. Unable to “tolerate his conditions” and believing “he may never be released,” J.D. told other children and guard Adrian Cooper that he planned to hang himself.

Cooper learned that J.D. was tying his jumpsuit into a noose, and a call to Lt. Brandon Waters was made to inform him of that situation. Neither Cooper nor Waters intervened. Other children screamed that J.D. was hanging himself, yet it was not until 20 minutes later that Cooper went to his cell. He made no effort to revive J.D. A nurse responded without an emergency bag and made a brief attempt at CPR.

An investigation by the DJJ determined that Cooper had committed child neglect and nine other staff members were guilty of misconduct. Cooper and Nurse Kawana Wires were fired and two other employees demoted.

The federal lawsuit filed by J.D.’s parents alleged tampering of evidence; specifically, the falsified entry of a purported mental health visit with their son on April 3. Further, Clinical Director Lainey Richardson was accused of altering DJJ policy in an effort to avoid responsibility for J.D.’s death, after it became apparent that she “was not familiar” with the policy regarding placement of children in solitary confinement.

The parties eventually reached a $1.7 million settlement to resolve the case. The estate was represented by attorneys Matthew S. Harmon and Eric Fredrickson. See: Butler v. Niles, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Ga.), Case No. 1:15-cv-04239-MHC. 


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Related legal case

Butler v. Niles