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$7,500 Settlement in Pennsylvania Prisoner’s Suicide

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PDOC) agreed to pay a meager $7,500 to settle a lawsuit that alleged its employees failed to properly treat a teenage prisoner’s mental health issues, resulting in her suicide.

Teasia M. Long was 17 on February 3, 2014 when she ignited rags doused with perfume and threw them on the stairs of the home she shared with her aunt and uncle while they slept. She left the house as it filled with smoke, but returned to retrieve two of the three dogs. According to an arrest affidavit, Long walked away as her uncle was on the roof screaming for help.

She told investigators in 2014 that she was trying to kill herself. On March 11, 2015, Long pleaded “guilty but mentally ill” to charges of attempted homicide and arson; she was sentenced to nine to 40 years in prison, and arrived at SCI Muncy nine days later.

Information that accompanied Long to prison indicated she was “particularly vulnerable to suicide.” A subsequent civil rights complaint filed by her aunt, Nancy Bickhart, said those records noted that Long suffered from “bipolarity, anxiety, depression, and PTSD.” She also had a history of substance abuse, specifically with inhalants, and two prior suicide attempts.

A March 27, 2015 examination of Long by physician’s assistant Jessie Ayers noted scars on Long’s neck, arms and wrists from suicide attempts. Erin Brown, a certified registered nurse practitioner who performs outpatient psychiatric services for PDOC medical contractor MHM Correctional Services, noted Long was a suicide risk.

Despite the records and observations by medical staff, Long was not classified or treated for her mental health problems as required by PDOC policy, which required mandatory entry in its Mental Health/Intellectual Disability Tracking System and a Stability Code C as a result of her guilty but mentally ill plea. According to policy, that would have resulted in Long receiving “a host of mental health services.”

Rather than being placed in the tracking system and properly coded, Long was sent to the Restrictive Housing Unit, where she hanged herself on May 24, 2015.

“Why wasn’t she in a hospital getting treatment?” Bickhart asked.

The civil rights complaint was filed on behalf of Long’s estate in 2017 by attorneys Benjamin D. Andreozzi and Nathaniel L. Foote. It settled in January 2018 for $7,500 – an apparent indication of the value that the PDOC places on a prisoner’s life. Of the settlement amount, $3,750 will offset Long’s burial costs while $3,750 will cover less than half the costs incurred by the lawyers who filed the lawsuit. Attorney fees were waived. See: Bickhart v. Wetzel, U.S.D.C. (M.D. Penn.), Case No. 4:17-cv-00873-SES. 

Additional sources: www.pennlive.com, www.dailyitem.com

 

Related legal case

Bickhart v. Wetze