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Watson must defend jail suicide suit brought by MacArthur Justice Center of Chicago


By Record News | Oct 9, 2018

BENTON – St. Clair County Sheriff Rick Watson must defend a claim of deliberate indifference in a jail suicide, U.S. District Judge Staci Yandle ruled on Oct. 4. 

Yandle denied a motion to dismiss that claim and others in a suit the estate of Joshua Jurcich brought against Watson, ten employees and the county. 

She wrote that the estate alleged that policy, lack of policy, and widespread practices were the forces behind the failure to protect Jurcich. 

She wrote that Watson argued that the booking process included checking whether a detainee has suicidal tendencies. 

“But merely noting the fact that someone may be suicidal does not constitute a suicide prevention policy,” Yandle wrote. 

Jurcich went to jail 17 times in 16 years. 

Jail staff diagnosed him with bipolar disorder in 2008 and 2013. 

On his last time, starting March 6, 2014, he faced a drug possession charge. 

On March 11, 2014, jail officer Jon Knyff found Jurcich unconscious. Jurcich died at St. Elizabath’s Hospital on March 13, 2014. 

In 2016, Vanessa del Valle of the MacArthur Justice Center in Chicago filed suit for estate administrator Dawn Corbier. 

The suit alleges wrongful death against major Philip McLaurin, lieutenant Nancy Sutherlin, sergeant David Nichols, and officers James Wagener, Mark Harris, Dante Beattie, Thomas Mesey, Eric Walter, Patrick Fulton, Steve Frierdich, and Knyff. 

It claims defendants knowingly disregarded the risk of suicide in violation of Jurcich’s constitutional rights. It claims that Wagener, Harris, Beattie, Mesey, and Walter used excessive force. 

Along with a claim of deliberate indifference against Watson, the suit alleges that he bore liability for actions of his employees, and that he failed to accommodate Jurcich’s disability. 

Finally, the suit alleges an indemnification claim against the county. 

The employees argued in response that under state law on litigation against local governments, a limit of one year on wrongful death claims ran out. 

Watson claimed the same law removed his liability for actions of his employees.   

He and his employees denied all other allegations. 

Yandle found that no statute of limitations ran out because the estate sued for the benefit of Jurcich’s son, age 13 at the time of filing. 

She wrote that if a beneficiary is under 18 at the time a cause of action for wrongful death accrues, he may bring it within two years after turning 18. 

She ruled against Watson on indifference and accommodation of a disability. 

She wrote that Watson tried to frame the disability claim as an allegation that Jurcich’s disability was his suicidality. 

"Jurcich’s alleged mental illness is the disability, and his suicidality was a manifestation of that disability," Yandle wrote. 

On excessive force, she wrote that defendants argued that the force they used was objectively reasonable under the circumstances. 

Yandle wrote that whether it was reasonable was an issue for the finder of fact. 

She dismissed the constitutional claim against Wagener, Harris, Beattie, Fulton, Walter, and Knyff. 

She wrote that she couldn’t reasonably infer that they had access to booking forms or reason to check medical records. 

The constitutional claim against McLaurin, Sutherlin, Mesey, and Frierdich remains. So does the indemnification claim against the county. 

Del Valle and five other MacArthur Justice Center lawyers represent the estate, along with Latoya Berry of Belleville. 

Garrett Hoerner, Thomas Ysursa, and Katherine Melzer, all of the Becker Hoerner firm in Belleville, represent Watson, his employees, and the county.

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Becker, Hoerner, Thompson & Ysursa St. Clair County Sheriff's Office

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