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$275,000 Settlement Reached After Detainee’s Attempted Suicide at Illinois Jail

by David M. Reutter

In April 2021, Illinois’ DuPage County Jail (DCJ) and its Psychiatric Services Medical Director agreed to pay $275,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by detainee Dean Fuerstenberg, who attempted suicide at the jail in November 2013, sustaining permanent injuries.

In his amended civil rights complaint, Fuerstenberg alleged that during intake into DCJ on August 30, 2011, it was noted that he suffered “Anxiety/Panic” and “Poor Sleep/Eat,” along with visual or auditory hallucinations. In addition, the intake form also noted Fuerstenberg had a “dysphoric mood and restricted affect” with “situational distress.” Nevertheless he was placed in “an Administrative Open Seg pod with 15-minute visual checks,” his complaint recalled.

After jail officials learned that Fuerstenberg had asked other detainees whether and how anyone had attempted suicide at DCJ, he was placed on “Suicide/Emotional Watch” on September 9, 2011. While in that status, it was noted he complained of “severe depression, losing his job” and that he “has some crying episodes.” But he was moved back to Open Seg on October 2, 2011.

Subsequently, Fuerstenberg submitted a Health Services Request (HSR) on October 26, 2011, seeking treatment for depression. He was seen by Dr. James Corcoran, DCJ’s Psychiatric Services Medical Director, on November 16, 2011, when he was prescribed psychotropic medication. Dr. Corcoran then increase the dosage when he saw the detainee again on December 17, 2011. Nearly two years later, Fuerstenberg had been seen another 26 times.

On the next-to-last of those occasions on October 7, 2013, staff noted that Fuerstenberg’s “affect and mood appears depressed.” But on October 9, 2013, Dr. Corcoran approved his return to Open Seg. On November 19, 2013, Fuerstenberg attempted suicide by jumping from the railing outside his second-tier cell, resulting in “a closed head injury with complete paraplegia from the waist down.”

He filed suit in federal court for the Northern District of Illinois in November 2015 under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that while at DCJ he “did not receive any counseling or therapy for his mental health conditions, complaints, or symptoms.” It was further alleged that Dr. Corcoran failed to consider stressors upon Fuerstenberg, such as the nature of his charges and the unusual length of his jail detention. Thus the complaint alleged that Dr. Corcoran and Sheriff John E. Zaruba knew and ignored the substantial risk that Fuerstenberg may commit suicide, in violation of his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights.

Defendants argued that Fuerstenberg had failed to exhaust his grievances as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1997(e), saying his HSR was not a grievance. On September 27, 2017, the Court agreed with that argument, but only up to a point, saying “it is difficult to see how he could have filed a grievance complaining about Defendants’ failure to prevent his suicide attempt before November 19, when the attempt itself is the event that would have triggered the grievance.”

The Court then granted Defendants’ motion for summary judgment on the claims that they violated Fuerstenberg’s civil rights prior to the last time he was returned to Open Seg on October 9, 2013. But Plaintiff was granted summary judgment on his claims after that date. See: Fuerstenberg v. Zaruba, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 158513 (N.D. Ill.).

The parties then reached their settlement agreement in April 2021, obligating the two defendants—DCJ’s medical unit and Sheriff Zaruba—equally in a total payment of $275,000. The parties each agreed to pay their own attorney’s fees and costs. Fuerstenberg was represented by Chicago attorneys Ted S. Helwig, David J. Stagman and Shannon C. Gross of Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP. See: Fuerstenberg v. Zaruba, USDC (N.D. Ill.), Case No. 15-CV-10469. 

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Related legal case

Fuerstenberg v. Zaruba