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Nevada DOC Settles Suit Over Prisoner Suicide for $93,000

by Matthew Clarke

In June 2017, the Nevada Department of Corrections (DOC) paid $93,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by the parents and wife of a mentally-ill prisoner who committed suicide after his psychiatric needs were ignored by DOC staff.

John William Morse IV, 27, was a Nevada state prisoner who had served in the Army in Iraq from 2005 to 2009. His combat experiences left him physically and mentally scarred. The Veterans Administration diagnosed him with PTSD and paranoid schizophrenia, awarding him 100 percent disability. Due to his mental illness, he gave away his $2,900 monthly stipend and became homeless. He was obsessed with religion and aliens.

During one psychotic episode, he choked his then-girlfriend while insisting she enter into a blood covenant with him and accept Jesus Christ as her savior; he also stabbed himself in the face and head. Morse was arrested, convicted and sentenced to a lengthy prison term. He attempted suicide while held at the Washoe County jail.

Initial classification documents from the DOC revealed that prison officials were aware of Morse’s mental health issues and suicidal tendencies. Nonetheless, they placed him in general population at the North Nevada Correctional Center, and provided scant mental health services and no psychotropic medication.

Morse’s mental illness was readily apparent to other prisoners and staff. He was “hostile, antisocial, given to constantly talking, singing and laughing to himself,” and constantly acted out in disruptive and violently destructive ways. About a year after he arrived at the DOC, his body was found hanging in his cell.

With the assistance of Reno attorneys Terri Keyser-Cooper and Luke A. Busby, Morse’s parents, wife and estate filed a federal civil rights action against the DOC, a prison psychiatrist and a prison psychologist, alleging the denial of mental health treatment violated federal law and Morse’s constitutional rights.

The DOC settled the lawsuit for $93,000 and also agreed to improve employee training on suicide prevention with an emphasis on veterans. According to an October 2017 news report, $500 from the settlement will be used to purchase a plaque or memorial to honor Morse’s memory. See: Morse v. Lee, U.S.D.C. (D. Nev.), Case No. 3:17-cv-00209-LRH-VPC. 

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Related legal case

Morse v. Lee