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$500,000 Settles Illinois Jail Suicide Suit

by Matt Clarke

On April 27, 2017, the County Board of Knox County, Illinois agreed to a $500,000 settlement in a federal lawsuit over the suicide of a pretrial detainee.

Joey Corbin, 26, had a history of mental illness and was taking psychotropic medication when he was booked into the Knox County jail. He was not provided with his medication or any treatment for his withdrawal from alcohol dependency. Thirteen days after he arrived at the jail, and just after a reduction of his bond was denied in a court hearing, Corbin hung himself using a sheet threaded through a window.

With the assistance of Peoria attorney Louis J. Meyer, Corbin’s mother filed a federal civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on behalf of her son’s estate and three minor children, alleging the jail had a policy or practice of understaffing, denying medical and mental health treatment to reduce costs, and falsifying log entries for observation of prisoners, which had contributed to Corbin’s death. The suit named Knox County Sheriff David L. Clague, deputies Hedi Hawkins, Louis Glossip and Brad Abernathy, Advanced Correctional Healthcare (ACH) – the private firm contracted to provide medical treatment at the jail – and nurse Amy Stromberg as defendants.

According to court documents, there was evidence that jail staff ignored obvious signs that Corbin was suicidal. A deputy who monitored a phone call between Corbin and his parents in which he said goodbye, told them not to blame themselves and spoke in the past tense had informed both jail administrator Glossip and chief of jail operations Abernathy of the suicidal tone of Corbin’s comments, but they did nothing. A booking entry stating that Corbin was having suicidal ideations had been crossed out and changed. Further, a security video showed Hawkins performing rounds without actually looking into Corbin’s cell – where he had been hanging for less than a minute.

After the county turned the defense of the lawsuit over to attorneys with the Illinois Counties Risk Management Trust, a $500,000 settlement was reached. The county’s deductible was $25,000. The agreement will result in a structured settlement that pays Corbin’s children a total of $589,118 over the next 27 years. The estate’s claim against ACH was not part of the settlement.

The jail has since increased the monitoring of prisoners and availability of medical care, adding a full-time nurse and a physician who visits at least once a week. The facility also made psychiatric services available one evening a week.

“Care for inmates with mental health issues is the number one issue faced by the sheriffs in all 102 counties in Illinois,” said Sheriff Clague. “I’m not trying to make any excuses for what happened to Mr. Corbin. But we can step back and see 31 percent of the 143 inmates we have on a daily basis suffer from some form of mental illness. It is the greatest challenge we face.” See: Estate of Corbin v. Knox County, U.S.D.C. (C.D. Ill.), Case No. 4:16-cv-04232-JEH. 

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Related legal case

Estate of Corbin v. Knox County