Suicide raises questions about mental health care at jail

From: Las Vegas Sun
By Steve Kanigher
May 4th 2011

A suicide at the Clark County Detention Center in 2009 is kindling accusations that the downtown facility run by Metro Police is doing a poor job addressing mental health needs, an issue that prompted a Justice Department investigation of the facility a decade ago.

In a federal lawsuit, Las Vegas attorney Cal Potter III alleged on behalf of plaintiff Amanda Lou Cavalieri that the suicide of her husband, Michael Anthony Cavalieri, could have been prevented had the jail better screened and observed him.

Defendants include Metro and NaphCare, an Alabama company contracted by the jail to provide detainees with psychiatric and medical care. Metro spokesman officer Marcus Martin declined to comment on the lawsuit, filed in March, and a Las Vegas lawyer who represents NaphCare didn’t return calls seeking comment.

Cavalieri, 55, was an electrician booked in February 2009 on assault and weapons charges and was a pretrial detainee. According to the lawsuit, he suffered from bipolar disorder and was withdrawing from drug addiction.

He was initially placed in an observation cell and was to be housed in a unit with authorized suicide watch by jail staff at 15-minute intervals. But the lawsuit alleges that staff erroneously concluded he did not have suicidal thoughts and placed him in a cell within the general population.

On March 6, 2009, a correctional officer allegedly failed to perform a required twice hourly walk-through, and Cavalieri was discovered hanging from an air-conditioning vent. He was pronounced dead at University Medical Center.

Dr. Simone Russo of Las Vegas, retained by Potter, stated in an affidavit that Cavalieri “should have been admitted to a psychiatric ward for further observation and treatment.”

“Based upon my review of the record there does not appear to be any suicidal precautions taken after the decedent was placed in the general population, which is below the standard of care,” Russo said. He said that resulted in Cavalieri taking his life.

The lawsuit also stated that problems concerning suicide prevention and mental health care have been long-standing at the jail and it “has continued to be plagued by suicides.” According to Martin, one suicide occurred at the jail in 2008, but none in 2010 or so far this year.

After inspecting the jail in early 1998, the Justice Department issued a scathing report identifying numerous issues that it said violated the inmates’ constitutional rights. Among those issues were “inadequate mental health care and suicide prevention.” Investigators found inadequate suicide screening when individuals were first processed into jail, and poor supervision once they were placed in temporary holding areas, a combination they said posed “an especially dangerous inmate suicide risk.”

Read the rest here.

Advertisements