St. Clair County Sheriff's officers sued after inmate hangs himself

Carrie Bradon Mar. 22, 2016, 9:19am


The estate of a man who died after attempting to commit suicide while he was detained by the St. Clair County Sheriff's Department alleges the department failed to take the decedent's suicide threats seriously.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois against St. Clair County Sheriff Richard Watson, several department officials and the county jail's mental health provider, alleging the defendants violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

According to the lawsuit, Joshua Jurcich suffered from mental illness and had a history of substance abuse.  He was taken into custody on March 6, 2014, after he was arrested for possession of a controlled substance. 

Jurcich was allegedly placed in unsanitary and crowded environments, and on March 11, 2014 was allegedly beaten by the jail staff when he would not return to his isolated confinement. The plaintiff alleges the decedent was left in isolation, despite making threats to kill himself. 

Within eight hours of the alleged beating, Jurcich was discovered hanging in his cell by the jail staff. He died two days later at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Belleville.

The suit claims that Jurcich was at risk for suicide, and that his actions and patterns necessitated a higher level of supervision from the sheriff's staff. Jurcich allegedly was not placed in a suicide-proof cell and one sheriff’s deputy allegedly acknowledged Jurcich’s suicide threat by saying, “He’s just going to be another dead mother f***er then.”

"Joshua Jurcich’s tragic death was entirely preventable and resulted from dual failures in the St. Clair County justice system," said Vanessa del Valle, a clinical assistant professor at the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center.She is among the lawyers representing the plaintiffs.

Founded in 1985 and now part of the Northwestern University School of Law's Bluhm Legal Clinic, the Justice Center advocates for human rights and social justice through litigation.

"First, the fact that Mr. Jurcich, a person who lived with mental illness and addiction but who posed no public safety risk, was detained at the jail is a travesty and suggests that pre-trial detention is dangerously over-used in the county," del Valle said.

The suit contends that the sheriff's office ignored several suicide risk factors, including that Jurcich was a young male with a history of mental health issues and substance abuse problems. 

According to a press release issued by the justice center, a 2010 study by the U.S. Department of Justice National Institute of Corrections found that 38 percent of jail suicides were detainees who had a history of mental illness and 47 percent were detainees with a history of substance abuse. 

Del Valle said the response of the jail staff when Jurcich stated his intent to commit suicide is a strong indicator of the culture at the institution and that changes must be made in the legal system in order to prevent future inmates with mental health issues. 

"The staff not only ignored Mr. Jurcich’s suicide threats, they mocked him, exhibiting a total disregard for the value of his life," del Valle said. "To them, he was not worth helping or protecting."

Organizations in this Story

Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center
4400 South Carrollton Avenue
New Orleans, LA 70119

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