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Missouri County Agrees to $60,000 Settlement in Wrongful Death Case

by Kevin Bliss

Ralph Caldwell, the father of Michael Kibbons, filed a lawsuit against St. Louis County, Missouri for deliberate indifference to his son’s mental health needs, resulting in his death. The suit alleged that jail staff failed to properly treat and house Kibbons in a manner consistent with his medical history and prescribed medication, leading Kibbons to commit suicide.

Represented by attorneys Gregory G. Fenlon and David A. Perney with the St. Louis Lawyers Group, Caldwell claimed violations of Kibbons’ Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights and asked for actual, compensatory and punitive damages.

Kibbons was arrested in June 2015 and booked into the St. Louis County Justice Center as a pretrial detainee. During intake, he  reported his history of mental illness, the current medication prescriptions he was taking and his previous suicide attempts, including one at the same jail he was being processed into. The lawsuit also stated that Kibbons had been a previous PREA (Prison Rape Elimination Act) victim, therefore policy required that he be housed alone and under observation.

Caldwell claimed that Kibbons was denied his medications and put in a cell that already held another occupant, M. Hollenback – a violation of the PREA policy. The next morning, Lt. Anderson came to move Kibbons to the infirmary for observation, but according to the lawsuit, Kibbons persuaded him that he didn’t need to go to the infirmary. He convinced Anderson to place him back in his original cell. Caldwell said Anderson was not qualified to make that assessment as to Kibbons’ mental condition.
The complaint alleged a guard opened the cell doors for recreation at 1 p.m. on June 27, 2015. Hollenback left the cell but Kibbons did not. Hollenback had closed the door behind him and the guard could not see inside the cell from the officer’s station, thus leaving Kibbons alone without observation. When Hollenback returned to his cell a half-hour later, he found Kibbons had hanged himself.

Lt. Anderson and the guard were deliberately indifferent to Kibbons’ mental health needs and placed him at serious risk with their actions, Caldwell argued. St. Louis County agreed to a $60,000 settlement, which included a release of responsibility and nondisclosure agreement.

On October 19, 2018, the district court appointed Mark Speake to represent Kibbons’ minor son, E.S., at the hearings. The court then approved the settlement and apportioned it at $49,500 to Ralph Caldwell, who is also responsible for paying $24,000 in attorney fees and costs, plus $9,000 to E.S. and $1,500 to Kibbons’ mother, Carol Vancil. See: Caldwell v. St. Louis County, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Mo.), Case No. 4:17-cv-02073-NCC. 

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Related legal case

Caldwell v. St. Louis County