Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Eighth Circuit Holds Lack of “Clearly Established” Law Requiring Staffer to Notify of Prisoner’s Suicide Risk Prevented Damages

by Dale Chappell

Finding that qualified immunity prevented a lawsuit against a jailer who failed to notify a receiving jail that a prisoner was at-risk for suicide and he killed himself at that jail, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed the denial of summary judgment to the jailer on April 5, 2021.

While the court called the case tragic, it explained that there was no “clearly established” law the staffer had a duty to notify the next jail that DeJuan Brinson was at high risk for suicide, even though he had just been on “full suicide watch” at the St. Louis City Justice Center, but bumped down to “close custody” status.

When he hanged himself at the City of Jennings Detention Center, the court found that staff at the St. Louis jail were not liable under qualified immunity. The court made much of a “mental health professional” (otherwise nonspecific), who concluded that Brinson wasn’t a suicide risk and took him off the heightened-watch status.

The court’s statement in this case shows the problems with qualified immunity: “Clearly established and specific constitutional requirements defined under this general rule [that prison staff must notify receiving staff of suicide risk] do not support the proposition that an officer is required to second-guess a mental health professional’s judgment as to the substantiality of a suicide risk.”

In other words, as long as someone else has said the prisoner is not as risk of suicide, then the sending staffer isn’t obligated, under law, to notify the receiving prison of the risk. The court, therefore, reversed the denial of summary judgment and sent the case back to the district court to be dismissed. As PLN has reported, the St. Louis jail is a deeply troubled facility with a systemic pattern of disregarding the safety of prisoners. See: Perry v. City of St. Louis, 993 F.3d 584 (8th Cir. 2021).  

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

Perry v. City of St. Louis