Federal court dismisses ADA-Jail Suicide Case

Federal court dismisses ADA-Jail Suicide Case

Federal Judge Ewing Werlein granted summary judgment in favor of Harris County on February 25 in a lawsuit arising from the suicide of Danarian Hawkins which occurred in 2015 while he was a detainee in the County Jail. Plaintiff claimed that the County violated the Americans with Disability Act by failing to reasonably accommodate Mr. Hawkin’s known mental health disability (bipolar disorder and schizoaffective disorder) by not providing him a “safe” cell and not providing him with constant observation. Mr. Hawkins mother, Jacqueline Smith, contended that Mr. Hawkins, who had attempted suicide several times in the jail, should not have been placed in a cell by himself and given a bedsheet since he had previously attempted suicide by hanging himself with a bedsheet using the smoke detector attached to the ceiling.

Judge Werlein found that Plaintiff’s ADA claims were traceable to the medical decisions of a psychiatrist who had concluded that Mr. Hawkins had improved and was adhering to treatment and could be discharged from the Mental Health Unit. The uncontroverted evidence was that Mr. Hawkins was housed in single cells because of his history of assaulting other inmates and staff and that was never singled out for denial of visitation.

A state licensed counselor, who visited Mr. Hawkins the day before the suicide did not refer him to the Mental Health Unit because she did not consider him to be actively suicidal. The judge stated: “After his suicide, of course, any observer and perhaps [the counselor] herself could second-guess the judgment she made the day before, but the fact remains that it was a medical decision and therefore does not raise a fact issue on Plaintiff’s ADA claim.” Laura Hedge and Keith Toler were the lead attorneys on this case. Andrea Mintzer served as lead paralegal.