$1 Million Settlement in Georgia Prisoner’s Preventable Suicide Attempt and Death
by David M. Reutter
A $1 million settlement was reached in a civil rights lawsuit alleging officials at Georgia State Prison (GSP) failed to take action to prevent a prisoner’s suicide attempt, which resulted in his death three years later.
Prisoner Nicholas Baldwin was 17 years old when he was transferred to GSP, which was a violation of its policy to house only persons 18 and older. Prior to that transfer, Nicholas had attempted suicide on two prior occasions. His mother, Debra Baldwin, became very concerned when he refused visitation with her on October 23, 2014, which compelled her to contact the prison to express her concern that Nicholas should be placed in a psychiatric facility.
Debra spoke to mental health counselor Kimberly Hall on November 6 and informed her of the prior suicide attempts. While Hall recognized after an interview with Nicholas that he needed “emergency” psychiatric care, her response was to schedule an appointment five days later on November 11.
Another mental health counselor, Madia West, met with Nicholas on November 6, and she suspected “possible psychosis” as his current mental health condition. He reported seeing Satan and practicing black magic. The reason he refused visitation was because Satan told him to, or something bad would happen. Nicolas said he had been to hell and was practicing black magic because it would get him out of prison and make him rich.
Despite the finding that Nicholas was suffering from psychosis, no psychiatric care was provided. Less than 24 hours after meeting with West, Nicholas was found hanging from a bed sheet in his cell. His cellmate discovered him and summoned a guard, who refused to open the cell until back up arrived.
It took about four minutes for help to arrive, and then guards took no action until a camera arrived. When it did arrive, it was discovered the battery was dead and guards waited for another camera to arrive while Nicholas continued to hang from the sheet. Once the other camera arrived, guards put on latex gloves and took action to cut Nicholas down. They discovered he was breathing and began CPR.
He was resuscitated and taken to GSP’s medical unit. Despite having normal vital signs and “breathing well,” Dr. Marcus Occhipiniti ordered two amps of Epinephrine be administered. When it was, Nicholas suffered cardiac arrest. He was revived, but he suffered anoxic brain damage due to being oxygen deprived for so long. He remained in a minimally conscious state in 24 hour nursing care until his death on November 7, 2017.
Attorneys Robin Frazier Clark and Gerard J. Lupa filed suit on the estate for Nicholas on April 12, 2017. The Georgia Board of Regents, on October 18, 2019, agreed to settle that suit for $1 million. MHM Correctional Services, GSP’s private medical provider, settled all claims against it in a confidential amount in August 2019. See: Baldwin v. Daniel, Tattenall County Superior Court, Case No. 2017-SV-13, A.
Additional sources: Atlanta Journal-Constitution, law.com