On October 29, 2020, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reinstated a claim against a Louisville, Kentucky jail classification officer who, contrary to jail policy, moved a prisoner to a segregation cell with a barred window despite recent suicide attempts and suicidal tendencies. The prisoner soon committed suicide by hanging himself from the bars.
Charles R. Troutman, Jr. was arrested on various felony drug charges and taken to the Louisville Metro Department of Corrections jail. While still in a holding cell, he attempted suicide by choking himself. He wrapped gauze around his neck so tightly, a guard could not get his finger under the gauze. Troutman told a guard sergeant he attempted suicide because “he was a junkie and had no reason to live because he was going to get 20 years for his charges.” Jail staff placed him on suicide observation and detox.
Soon after the suicide attempt, a nurse conducted a medical screening during which Troutman admitted to three or four prior suicide attempts. His daughter called the jail and informed them that he experienced a recent traumatic head injury requiring hospitalization. A later psychiatric evaluation by Correct Care Solutions (CCS), the jail’s contract prisoner health-care provider, noted a brain injury the prior year that put Troutman in a coma for nine days. He told the nurse, “I’m not good at all. I’m dying!” He also reported sleep disturbance and minimal appetite.
The next day, he reported some improvement in appetite and denied continued suicidal thoughts.
The following day, Troutman was examined by a CCS doctor who noted the brain injury, stuttering and hypertension. She wrote that he claimed the holding cell incident was not a serious suicide attempt.
The next day, mental health officials cleared Troutman to be moved into general population. His daughter called jail staff the following day to express her concerns that he was distraught over his probable sentence and crying on the phone. One day later, he was in a verbal altercation with another prisoner and was moved to another part of the jail complex where he soon had a physical altercation with another prisoner.
Because Troutman received a disciplinary writeup for the physical altercation, jail policy at that time was to place him in solitary confinement awaiting a disciplinary hearing unless he was suicidal. Prison Classification Interviewer James Cox reviewed Cox’s file and, despite the recent suicide attempt, had him placed in a cell with a barred window. He also notified a nurse about the move. Jail policy required him to receive approval from medical before initiating the move. Less than two hours after being placed in the cell, Troutman used the bars and a sheet to hang himself.
Troutman’s family filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Cox, the jail, the county, the jail’s director, CCS and CCS medical personnel. CCS settled and the remaining defendants filed a motion for summary judgment which the trial court granted. With the assistance of Cincinnati, Ohio attorneys Alphonse A. Gerhardstein and M. Caroline Hyatt of Gerhardstein & Branch and Louisville attorney Larry D. Simon, the family appealed.
The Sixth Circuit upheld summary judgment against all defendants except Cox because the jail’s policy was not unconstitutional. The court found material facts in dispute on whether Cox was deliberately indifferent to the risk of suicide when he violated jail policy or reasonably relied on dated medical entries. Summary judgment was reversed with respect to Cox and otherwise affirmed. See: Troutman v. Louisville Metro Dep’t of Corr., 979 F.3d 472 (6th Cir. 2020).
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