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$2.1 Million Settlement for Estate of Detainee Who Committed Suicide in Scandal-Plagued Ohio Jail

by David M. Reutter

On May 5, 2022, Ohio’s Cuyahoga County agreed to pay $2.1 million to the estate of a mentally ill detainee arrested on bogus charges who was then left to commit suicide at the county jail (CCJ). The settlement is one of 11 so far in 30 lawsuits filed over a string of detainee deaths since 2018, resulting in payouts totaling $6.4 million to date.

When Cleveland police came upon Brenden John Kiekisz, 27, on Christmas Day 2018, he was asking people for money to get something to eat. The cops arrested him for panhandling — “aggravated solicitation,” they noted — which was not even recognized as an arrestable offense in Cuyahoga County at the time. Once Kiekisz was in custody, they discovered he had a warrant for skipping a September 2018 probation meeting. Ominously, he had missed that appointment because he was in a mental health facility with suicidal thoughts.

When guard Rob Marsh booked him into CCJ, Kiekisz stated that he had attempted suicide two days earlier. But he denied being suicidal at the time. He also claimed to suffer from depression and bipolar disorder, for which he was currently on numerous medications. Marsh noted that Kiekisz appeared angry and had recently carved the letters “F.U.” into his left arm.

Nevertheless, Kiekisz was subsequently placed in general population without any further review or assessment of his physical or mental health. He appeared before a judge on December 27, 2018, informing the Court of his mental condition and that he was not receiving his medication. An attorney who represented him detailed Kiekisz’s mental health history and the reason for missing the probation meeting. Kiekisz asked the court to send him to a mental health facility because jail was causing him “depression” and to “lose it.”

After that appearance, Kiekisz was returned to his general population cell. At around 11:00 p.m. that evening, he was found prone and unresponsive. It was discovered he had tied his blanket to the handle of the bunk bed and hanged himself. Resuscitation efforts were only partially successful, leaving Kiekisz on life support until he died on December 30, 2018.

His mother, Paula, filed suit on behalf of his estate in state Court of Common Pleas, accusing the county and its jail officials of violating her late son’s civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., and § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Defendants removed the case to the federal court for the Northern District of Ohio, which subsequently granted judgment on the pleadings to several of them on November 9, 2021, while preserving Plaintiff’s other claims. See: Kiekisz v. Cuyahoga Cty. Bd. of Comm’rs, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 215979 (N.D. Ohio).

Meanwhile the surge in deaths at CCJ sparked an investigation by the U.S. Marshals Service and a criminal investigation by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office. That revealed former CCJ Warden Ken Ivey and former Jail Director Ken Mills had reduced medical screenings at booking as a cost-cutting measure. They then had guards record preliminary medical information and send it to nurses. As a result, hundreds of detainees went without a complete medical screening.

Ivey pleaded guilty to submitting a false report in 2019 and agreed to cooperate in the case against Mills, who received a nine-month prison sentence in 2021 for lying to investigators and the county council to cover up his deadly cost-cutting. [See: PLN, Mar. 2019, p.12; May 2020, p.48.; and Feb. 2022, p.54.] During one interview with the state Attorney General’s Office and FBI investigators, Ivey also acknowledged Kiekisz’s death was particularly preventable.

Cuyahoga County officials agreed and decided to settle the lawsuit filed by his estate. That agreement obligates the county to pay $1.4 million, with its insurance carrier paying another $700,000. The settlement also includes fees and costs for Cleveland attorney Paul J. Cristallo, who represented the estate. See: Kiekisz v. Cuyahoga Cty. Bd. of Comm’rs, USDC (N.D. Ohio), Case No. 1:21-cv-00264. 

Additional source: Corrections One

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