Cochise County, Arizona recently filed notice in a pending lawsuit involving the suicide hanging death of a county inmate, arguing that if it is found liable for the death, the psychiatrist who provided mental health services to the county as an independent contractor should be responsible to pay the verdict. The notice states, “To the extent that Plaintiff claims that the medical/mental health care at the jail was substandard and was a cause of the death of Clay Mathis, then Dr. Schiff may be at fault regarding this claim. Dr. Schiff is not an employee of the Sheriff or Cochise County. Dr. Schiff is an independent contractor providing medical/mental health services for the jail.”
The 31-year-old inmate, who had a history of mental health issues, attempted to hang himself in the county jail on his birthday in September 2018; he died the next day. The inmate had been jailed since August 10, 2018, for allegedly stealing his father’s car and possessing methamphetamine for personal use. On the day he was jailed, a Crisis Mobile Team Intervention reportedly noted issues with his behavior and the jail staff also documented that he admitted to a prior suicide attempt and that the man stated that he did not know why he was in jail. Ten days later, the contract psychiatrist determined that the man was not psychotic or suicidal and that his mood and judgment appeared fine to him.
Nonetheless, the man’s behavior during the following days resulted in him being placed under special watch. Among other things, special watch requires a staff member to check on an inmate about every 30 minutes (it is not the same as a suicide watch). During one of those checks on September 11, 2018, the man was found unresponsive in his cell with a sheet tied around his neck.
The man’s father alleges in the lawsuit against the county and others that the records from the jail failed to document a complete mental status exam, a suicide risk assessment, or the circumstances of his son’s previous suicide attempts. The defendants counter that the man failed to notify the jail staff or the medical staff that he was considering suicide, and that the father failed to provide any information about his son’s mental illness during his son’s incarceration.
The man’s suicide was the third suicide that had occurred at the county jail during a six-year period.
The county reportedly rejected a $1 million settlement demand from the father made in March 2019. The eight-day trial is scheduled for the spring of 2021.
If you or a loved one were injured due to deliberate indifference or the lack of appropriate medical care while incarcerated in a prison, jail, or other correctional facility in Arizona or in another U.S. state, you should promptly seek the legal advice of a local medical malpractice lawyer in your state who handles prisoner/inmate medical malpractice claims and may investigate your claim and represent you or your loved one, if appropriate.
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