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No Summary Judgment for Jail’s Denial of Mental Health Treatment; $150,000 Settlement

by Mark Wilson

On June 8, 2018, an Oregon fed-eral district court denied a summary judgment motion filed by jail officials, concluding that a reasonable jury could find a psychotic detainee’s 16-day confinement without treatment constituted deliberate indifference to his serious medical condition. 

The Lane County Sheriff’s Department operates a jail in Eugene, Oregon, and contracted with Corizon Health to provide medical and mental health care for prisoners. 

Angelo James Fricano is an Army veteran who had no criminal record or documented mental illness. In June 2014, however, Fricano began experiencing symptoms consistent with a psychotic break, possibly due to a change in his medication. His mood became increasingly unstable and his behavior erratic. 

On June 29, 2014, Fricano was arrested on a misdemeanor menacing charge after threatening a vendor at a fair. Mental health worker Lucy Kingsley followed police to the scene and witnessed Fricano’s arrest. He was “significantly disturbed” and “psychotic, delusional, disoriented, confused,” she said.

Kingsley faxed the jail a “Director’s Hold,” declaring Fricano “a mentally ill person who is a danger to self or others and is in need of immediate care, custody, and treatment.” She mistakenly believed this would result in Fricano’s transport to a hospital emergency room. 

He was instead taken to jail, where guards forcibly removed him from the patrol car after he resisted less aggressive removal efforts. He refused to “acknowledge” officers, repeating the word “lawyer.”

Guards could not complete the booking process because Fricano refused to answer questions and exhibited signs of mental illness. He was placed on suicide watch in segregation, where his strange behavior continued. 

Corizon mental health worker Tawnya Hettwer unsuccessfully attempted to conduct an evaluation through the cell door. She gave up because Fricano was “uncooperative.” 

The next morning, Hettwer described Fricano’s mental state as “psychosis – delusional, paranoid” with “impaired” judgment. Yet she determined that he was “not a threat” and released him from suicide watch. He remained in segregation where he pounded on the door, smashed his head into a wall, made “psycho eyes” at guards, and was described as “very mentally ill,” “incoherent” and “delusional.” Guards withheld lunch when he was non­responsive. 

No Corizon or jail staff attempted to address Fricano’s psychosis between June 29 and July 1, 2014. Although he interacted with Corizon staff at least 40 times between July 1 and 14, they did nothing to treat his mental health condition. 

On July 2, 2014, Fricano was making nonsensical remarks and attempting to run out of his cell. Guards used significant force and pepper spray to subdue him, then denied him a shower for two days. 

After 11 days in jail and significant decompensation, Fricano was finally seen – through his segregation cell door’s food slot – for the first and only time by Corizon psychiatrist Dr. Victor Richenstein. The visit lasted less than 15 minutes. 

Fricano was finally released on July 14. He was transported to a hospital emergency room, where he was involuntarily admitted pursuant to another “Director’s Hold” and promptly diagnosed with “acute psychosis.” A treatment plan was created and updated daily. After just three days of treatment, he was described as “clear, coherent, and goal directed.” He was then discharged and voluntarily transferred to a VA hospital. 

Fricano filed suit against Lane County and Corizon officials in 2016, alleging deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs. The defendants moved for summary judgment. 

The district court denied their motion, concluding that a reasonable jury could find “Fricano was never treated or that any treatment was ‘so cursory as to amount to no treatment at all.’” Moreover, a reasonable jury could find that the defendants’ deliberate indifference to Fricano’s serious medical needs caused him to suffer “unnecessary and wanton” pain. 

The court also denied summary judgment to Fricano on his Monell liability claims, “because there are genuine disputes of fact such that a reasonable jury could find that the policies or customs of Corizon and Lane County amounted to deliberate indifference and were the moving force behind deprivations” of his due process rights. 

In reaching that conclusion, the district court found three unconstitutional customs by Corizon, including failing to 1) “complete intake medical screenings for inmates with mental health issues” before booking, 2) provide “ameliorative mental health care and ... adequate psychiatric staffing and supervision,” and 3) medically transfer prisoners suffering from acute mental health crises.

Finally, the court concluded a reasonable jury could find that the county, through the sheriff, was constructively aware of Corizon’s customs and ratified its deficient practices. The case settled prior to trial in December 2018, with Lane County agreeing to pay $150,000 in compensatory damages. The settlement with Corizon was confidential. See: Fricano v. Lane County, U.S.D.C. (D. Ore.), Case No. 6:16-cv-01339-MC; 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 96521.

Lane County no longer contracts with Corizon to provide medical care at its jail. 


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Related legal case

Fricano v. Lane County