Lawsuit filed in jail suicide


Federal lawsuit stems from 2015 suicide at the Mahoning Co. jail

By Peter H. Milliken

milliken@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

The estate of an inmate who committed suicide Aug. 25, 2015, in the Mahoning County jail has sued the county, a corrections officer, two sheriff’s deputies, St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital and a hospital physician, nurse and social worker.

The lawsuit, which seeks $3 million in compensatory damages and $6 million in punitive damages, was filed Monday in U.S. District Court on behalf of the estate of Kevin Burkey, 50, of Lowellville, who was found in his cell hanging by his neck from a noose made from a bed sheet.

The complaint, filed by Atty. David Engler, asserts claims of civil-rights violations, governmental liability and medical malpractice and demands a jury trial.

Burkey, who stood on a ledge atop the hospital’s parking deck on Aug. 23, 2015, said he was upset because he believed the hospital emergency room staff would not treat him for the pain he suffered, hospital police reports said.

Burkey was talked out of harming himself and taken by ambulance, followed by a police cruiser, back to the emergency room, where police said they found vials of anesthetic.

Police said they identified the hospital lab room the vials came from and watched a video of Burkey entering the room and taking them.

After he was treated in the emergency room, Burkey was jailed on a charge of theft of dangerous drugs.

Burkey expressed no suicidal thoughts to the jail nurse, who performed the medical screening, or to the booking deputy, Sheriff Jerry Greene said in 2015.

Burkey advised jail deputies he needed to see a mental-health professional immediately because nobody at the jail knew what he was going through, the lawsuit said.

The deputies advised Burkey to submit a written medical request, which Burkey did, but the deputies “did not take any affirmative action” in response to Burkey’s request and failed to make the required checks of Burkey’s cell, the suit said.

The county failed to properly train its deputies and enforce its jail policies, the suit said.

Hospital personnel committed medical malpractice by negligently failing to recognize and respond properly “to multiple clear indications that Burkey was at high risk for self-harm,” by prematurely releasing him to the jail and by failing to adequately advise jail staff of his risk of self-harm, the suit said.

Besides the county and the hospital, those named as defendants in the lawsuit are Carl Vath, corrections officer; and Heather Hunter and Tyler Peters, sheriff’s deputies, all at the jail; and Dr. Holli Martinez; Michelle George, a registered nurse; and Jessica Russell, a social worker, all at the hospital.

Paul Gains, county prosecutor, declined to comment on the lawsuit because it is pending litigation. Hospital officials could not be reached for comment.

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