May 20, 2016

St. Clair County Sued Again Over Another Jail Suicide

EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. – Approximately five hours after telling his jailers that he intended to kill himself and being told “whatever, do what you want to do,” Bradley C. Scarpi was found hanging by a bedsheet in the St. Clair County Jail, according to a lawsuit filed Friday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois.

Scarpi, 33, of Belleville, died at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Belleville on May 23, 2014, less than hour after he was discovered hanging from his cell bars in a jail that – despite several recent suicide attempts and studies showing suicide as the leading cause of deaths in jail – does not have formal policies regarding suicide prevention and does not adequately train its staff in suicide prevention, according to the lawsuit.

“Brad was more than a victim of the St. Clair County Jail’s cruelty and indifference,” said Dwayne White, the older brother of the deceased executor of his estate. “He was a brother, a son, a father and a friend to so many. He is loved and missed. Our family is bringing this lawsuit to uncover the truth about what happened to Brad and to help ensure that no other family has to suffer this kind of loss.”

In addition to St. Clair County, which operates the jail, defendants include St. Clair County Sheriff Richard Watson; Major Phillip McLaurin, superintendent of the jail; and a dozen officers at the jail. The complaint alleges they violated Scarpi’s constitutional right “to be free from a known and unreasonable risk of serious harm while in the custody of the St. Clair County Jail.

Scarpi’s estate brought the legal action and is represented by Vanessa del Valle, Locke E. Bowman, Sheila A. Bedi, and David M. Shapiro, attorneys with the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center, a public interest law firm that is part of the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law’s Bluhm Legal Clinic in Chicago. Belleville attorney Latoya Berry also represents Scarpi’s estate in the case.

This is the second recent federal lawsuit brought against the St. Clair County in relation to a jail suicide. The MacArthur Justice Center and Berry also represent the estate of Joshua Jurcich, who hung himself in a jail cell two months before Scarpi committed suicide.

A little more than a year after the suicides of Scarpi and Jurcich, a third person, 19-year-old Damon E. Stidimire, committed suicide at the jail in October 2015. Between January 2014 and October 2015, there were 14 other suicide attempts at the jail.

The lawsuit states that Scarpi, a roofer by trade, lived with the disability of serious mental illness and had developed an addiction to prescription pain pills following a job-related back injury, according to the lawsuit. For 11 years, he had cycled in and out of the St. Clair County Jail, and had been in the jail a little more than a month before his death. On the day of his suicide, Scarpi told officers he had been threatened by others in the jail and requested to moved away from the two men making the threats and their friends.

While being moved to cell block E-Max, Scarpi told officers that he was going to kill himself, but the officers dismissed his threats. While in his new cell, which was not an adequate suicide-proof cell, Scarpi told Officer Christopher Lanzante that he was going to kill himself, and Lanzante responded: “whatever, do what you want to do,” and walked away, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit charges the defendants failed to provide Scarpi with adequate mental health services, failed to place him in a suicide-proof cell and failed to conduct regular checks on him while he was in his cell. The routine denial of access to proper mental health care and denial of safe, suicide prevention cells resulted in practices that “were allowed to flourish –and become so well settled as to constitute de facto policy of the St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department,” the suit states.

The complaint, filed on behalf of two young sons surviving Scarpi, seeks unspecified money damages for the wrongful death.