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$1.1 Million Settlement Paid by Michigan County to Estate of Detainee Who Committed Suicide at Jail

by David M. Reutter

On October 7, 2021, the Board of Commissioners of Michigan’s Macomb County agreed to pay $1 million to settle claims by survivors of a detainee who hanged himself at the county jail in 2017. The jail’s privately contracted medical provider, Correct Care Solutions (CCS), now known as Wellpath, had previously settled its liability in the case for $100,000.

Before he was arrested and booked into the Macomb County Jail (MCJ) on July 10, 2017, Dieter Herriges-Love, 34, had been held briefly the previous October, when it was noted he had mental and substance abuse problems for which he was seeing a psychiatrist and taking medication. When he was later arrested again, officials failed to complete a Jail Detention Card, which should have resulted in nonacceptance. Yet though no one inquired whether he “had any known medical problems” or “verbalized thoughts of suicide,” Herriges-Love was accepted into MCJ and placed in a detoxification unit.

The next day, staff documented that he abused Xanax and fentanyl daily, and that he also had a history of withdrawal symptoms. But this was not relayed to jail staff by Dr. Lawrence M. Sherman or nurse Jamie Kneisler, both of whom worked for CCS.

It was further documented that Herriges-Love expressed feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, saying he had nothing look forward to. Neither Sherman nor Kneisler communicated this to MCJ staff, and they didn’t have the detainee placed on suicide watch.

For the next few days, Herriges-Love was prescribed medication to treat his withdrawal symptoms. When that medication was discontinued on July 16, 2017, neither Sherman nor Kneisler conducted a follow up at any time before he committed suicide.

Shockingly, on July 21, 2017, Kneisler falsely documented that Herriges-Love did not have a history of psychotropic medication. He also falsely reported that the detainee did not have a history of psychiatric hospitalization. And he falsely added that Herriges-Love did not have mental health problems. Sherman and Kneisler then approved the detainee’s placement in the jail’s general population without a thorough suicide risk assessment.

On July 26, 2017, guards made “perfunctory welfare checks,” as was their normal custom, by making fast rounds through the cell block without looking into cells to check the wellbeing of detainees. One such check by guard Gary Babich was concluded in 17 seconds. During Babich’s 10:14 a.m. and 11:04 a.m. checks, Herriges-Love’s cell door was closed and the window had paper on it, obstructing the view into the cell. Yet Babich never made an effort to look into the cell or otherwise check the detainee’s wellbeing.

At 12:02 p.m., guard Abraham Sobh conducted a wellbeing check and entered Herriges-Love’s cell. The guard found he had “committed suicide with his jail-issued sheet and nonsuicide-resistant bunk.” Before that welfare check, the last visual check on the detainee was at 7:29 a.m., nearly five hours before.

After the death, MCJ Internal Affairs investigators learned from other detainees that Herriges-Love was obviously depressed, asking about suicides at the jail and not leaving his cell. The civil rights complaint filed by his estate in federal court for the Eastern District of Michigan in October 2019 alleged that the jail had “a pattern, practice, policy, and/or custom of enabling pretrial detainees to attempt and commit suicide by providing them with jail-issued bed sheets and metal bunks with holes which have been used to facilitate suicide on numerous occasions.” During pretrial discovery, it was also learned that 21 suicides had occurred at MCJ since 2000.

On October 26, 2020, the estate entered into a partial settlement with CCS/Wellpath for $100,000, paying $51,242.27 in costs and fees to Plaintiff’s attorney, Garrison Law, P.C., and the remaining $48,757.73 to Plaintiff.

Plaintiff also demanded videos of other suicides in the jail’s mental health unit, including some that post-dated Herriges-Love’s death. The county balked at those requests, but in a decision handed down on February 22, 2021, the Court took Plaintiff’s side.

The “videos related to the suicides after Herriges-Loves’s death are relevant to plaintiff’s claims that defendants had the unconstitutional policies, customs, and practices alleged in the amended complaint,” the Court noted, favorably citing Cratty v. City of Allen Park, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 225492.

Moreover, “plaintiff’s request for videos related to the suicide in the mental health housing unit of the jail easily clears the low bar of relevance under Federal Rule of Evidence 401,” the Court added. See: Herriges v. Cty. of Macomb, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 106726 (E.D. Mich.).

That cleared the way for the county and the estate to enter into their agreement. Of the $1 million they settled on, $400,000 was covered by the county’s insurance carrier. MCJ also agreed to inaugurate and track “four hours of annual suicide prevention training” for guards and to remove “all bunk drain holes from inmate occupied areas of the facility” while also implementing “irregular 30-minute security rounds in the inmate occupied general population.”

The dead man’s heirs filed affidavits agreeing to the distribution of the settlement proceeds, with $345,742.85 to Garrison Law, P.C. plus $5,000 back to the county to cover an outstanding medical bill, and the remaining $649,257.15 paid to his parents. His brother and sister, Colin and Ingrid Herriges-Love, disclaimed any interest in the proceeds. See: Herriges v. Cty. of Macomb, USDC (E.D. Mich.), Case 2:19-cv-12193. 

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Related legal case

Herriges v. Cty. of Macomb