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$860,000 Settlement in Suit Over Michigan Female Prisoner’s Suicide

by David M. Reutter

The Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) agreed to pay $860,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by the estate of a female prisoner who hanged herself after a guard placed a bet on whether she would become suicidal.

Janika Edmond, 25, had a documented history of “multiple attempts and threats of suicide” while held at the Lenawee County jail. That history was provided to officials at the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility (WHV) upon her transfer to the prison in February 2013. From July 14, 2014 until August 18, 2015, Edmond exhibited self-injurious behavior and suicidal ideation and attempts on eight occasions.

Her history and diagnosis of mental illness and major depressive and mood disorders resulted in a prescription for psychotropic medication to treat her condition. On September 11, 2015, the MDOC issued a Mental Health Management Plan for Edmond. Under the plan’s “Behavior to Observe and Report” section, guards and other staff members were instructed to report disruptive behavior, refusal to take medication and “any behavior or verbalization of harm to self or others.”

Edmond was assigned to a segregation unit on November 2, 2015. She was placed in the unit’s “shower/module” by guard Dianna Callahan, who did not remove Edmond’s clothing despite the fact that she had previously used a towel or other cloth material to attempt suicide by hanging herself. Just over an hour later, Edmond yelled that she wanted a “Bam Bam,” which was a slang term for a suicide prevention vest.

In a security video recording, Callahan reacted with elation. She “waved and pumped her fist three times into the air with her thumb up while nodding her head and looking in the direction of the Segregation Control Unit area,” Edmond’s estate alleged. Callahan repeated, “Somebody owes me lunch!” She and prison counselor Kory Moore were then heard conversing about a Subway sandwich; Callahan had placed a bet for lunch that Edmond would become suicidal.

Three minutes later, choking sounds were heard coming from the shower area. Those sounds continued for four minutes, but no one checked on Edmond for almost 20 minutes. Attempts to revive her were initially successful, but she was declared brain dead on November 6 and life-sustaining measures were removed on November 11, 2015. [See: PLN, June 2017, p.62; Dec. 2016, p.19].

The MDOC failed to follow policy by not immediately informing the Michigan State Police (MSP) of Edmond’s death, and MSP officials had to obtain a search warrant to gather evidence to conduct their investigation.

Callahan and Moore were suspended on November 9 and December 21, 2015, respectively. Both were terminated in March 2016, though Moore was reinstated following arbitration. Callahan was criminally charged and pleaded no contest to involuntary manslaughter; she was sentenced in December 2018 to six months in jail and two years of probation.

Meanwhile, Edmond’s estate filed a wrongful death suit in 2017. The parties reached an $860,000 settlement that was approved by the federal district court on May 30, 2019. [See: PLN, Sept. 2019, p.63].

Edmond’s two adult siblings each received $274,754.92, while the remaining $310,490.16 went toward costs, guardian fees and attorney fees. The estate was represented by attorney David S. Steingold and the law firms of Papista & Papista PLC and Pitt, McGehee, Palmer & Rivers PC. See: Clarke v. Michigan Department of Corrections, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Mich.), Case No. 2:17-cv-10528-RHC-DRG. 

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Additional sources: Detroit Free Press, mlive.com

Related legal case

Clarke v. Michigan Department of Corrections