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$301,000 Awarded in Lawsuit Over Suicide at Illinois Jail

by Kevin W. Bliss

In December 2018, a federal jury awarded Dwayne White $301,000 in a wrongful death claim filed on behalf of his brother, Bradley C. Scarpi, against St. Clair County, Illinois. Represented by attorney Vanessa del Valle with the MacArthur Justice Center at the Northwestern University School of Law, the suit alleged that the St. Clair County jail failed to adequately protect Scarpi, a mentally ill detainee, from harming himself. The jury award will be split between White and Scarpi’s two surviving children. 

Scarpi was arrested and booked into the jail on April 10, 2014 on home invasion charges. The following month, he informed guard Mark Harris that he was being threatened by two other prisoners in the same cell block, and was immediately transferred to maximum security cell block E.
White’s lawsuit claimed that Scarpi then told several guards he was going to kill himself. The guards failed to place Scarpi under observation at that time, and he was later found hanging from a sheet tied to his cell bars. Other prisoners in cell block E testified that Scarpi was known to be suicidal and made threats to harm himself, to which a guard named Lanzante responded, “Whatever, do what you want to do.”

The complaint accused the jail of not having proper procedures in place nor adequate training for guards to treat and care for mentally ill prisoners. It stated there were two other successful suicides and 14 attempts within the last two years.
Sheila Bedi, another attorney who represented White, said the jury’s verdict was significant because the jail had not previously been held accountable for failing to provide adequate treatment for prisoners.

“It’s a strong message to correctional officers at St. Clair County Jail that they can’t go on disregarding the lives of people,” she stated.
White had sued the jail for breach of duty and not sufficiently providing for Scarpi’s health and safety. He claimed that jail staff acted recklessly and in disregard to his brother’s rights, and that the facility was overcrowded, understaffed and lacked adequate suicide prevention.

White said his family rejected a $800,000 settlement offer in order to keep the lawsuit public. He wanted to bring attention to the deaths, suicides and staph infections occurring at the St. Clair County jail. 

The federal jury found Lanzante liable and awarded White $150,000 in compensatory damages on a failure to protect claim and $150,000 for a wrongful death claim, plus $1,000 in punitive damages. 

White filed a notice of appeal in January 2019, while the defendants submitted a motion seeking over $110,000 in attorney fees and costs incurred after White rejected a F.R.C.P. Rule 68 offer. The case remains pending on the post-trial motions and appeal. See: White v. Watson, U.S.D.C. (S.D. Ill.), Case No. 3:16-cv-00560-JPG-GSC. 


Additional source: Belleville News-Democrat

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Related legal case

White v. Watson