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Johnson v. Laramie County Board of County Commissioners of County of Laramie

United States District Court, District of Wyoming

August 1, 2019

DAVID LEE JOHNSON and BRENDA JOHNSON, individually and as the Wrongful Death Co-Representatives of Hunter Lee Johnson, Deceased; and as the Duly appointed Administrators of the Probate Estate of Hunter Lee Johnson, Deceased, Plaintiffs,



         This matter comes before the Court on Defendants Laramie County, Wayne Graves, Glenna Hansen and Russell Martens' Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 92) and the Individual Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 94). The Court, having considered the briefs and materials submitted in support of the motions and Plaintiffs' responses thereto, having heard oral argument of counsel and being otherwise fully advised, FINDS and ORDERS as follows:


         In July 1999, at the request of then-Sheriff of Laramie County Roger Allsop following two incidents of suicide in the Spring of that year, Judith Cox conducted an independent review and critique of the suicide prevention practices at the Laramie County jail. (See “Cox Report” at 1, Pls.' Ex. 3-8, ECF No. 102-1.) The Cox Report set forth a number of recommendations, including:

• Implement suicide screening protocol using essential suicide screening indicators. Id. at 3.
• Continuous observation of suicidal inmates or, if insufficient staff available, house inmate in a dormitory and check every 10-15 minutes until an assessment of suicide intent by a qualified mental health staff member determines the inmate is not suicidal. Id. at 3, 4.
• Collaboration between medical and mental health staff and security personnel to facilitate an interdisciplinary approach to tracking high risk suicidal inmates. Id. at 4.
• Implement a protocol to encourage outside agencies and families to report an inmate's suicide risk and to consult with an inmate's treating mental health professional if he/she is receiving mental health treatment. Id.
• Enhanced suicide risk training of security personnel and nurses. Id. at 4-5.
• Improved communication between medical and mental health staff. Id. at 5.
• Mental health services should be made visible and have routine hours of operation; increase mental health treatment, planning and follow-up time for inmates with special needs; expand mental health assessments to include a history of psychiatric care, current psychotropic medications, history of suicidal ideation and behavior, and drug or alcohol usage, and psychiatric consultation in treatment planning decisions. Id. at 6.

         Presently, the Laramie County Sheriff's Department (“LCSD”) has a policy entitled “Medical Program Objectives” (Policy No. 08.18) which provides: “Inmates will not be denied necessary medical services for a serious medical need; medical, dental and mental health matters involving clinical judgments are the sole provinces of the jail physician, dentist and psychiatrist or qualified psychologist respectively.” (Pls.' Ex. 3-5-B, ECF No. 101-8 at 27.) Further, LCSD has a written policy that covers suicide prevention, intervention, and behavior watch procedures, which was in effect in 2015. (Ind. Defs.' Ex. 1, ECF No. 95-1) (“Suicide Policy”). As the Suicide Policy states, all new inmates are to be screened at intake “for current suicidal ideations, a history of suicide attempts, and a history of mental health counseling.” Id. at 1. Inmates who are actively having suicidal ideations are placed on a 15-minute watch in a central-booking cell. Id. at 1, 2. The inmate will be placed in a safety smock and a watch log will be initiated. Id. at 2. The jail's mental health staff will then be notified. Id. at 3. Only the mental health staff can end or modify a 15-minute watch. Id. at 5. When the mental health staff does so, the inmate will be placed on a 30-minute watch for at least 48 hours. Id. And only a member of the mental health staff can end or modify a 30-minute watch and allow the inmate's regular housing assignment. Id. at 6.

         Laramie County Detention Center (“LCDC”) staff receives a variety of training related to the Suicide Policy and mental health risks generally. The jail captain, Michael Sorenson, has attended formal trainings from national agencies regarding suicide prevention in jails and also receives and reviews monthly email updates from those agencies. (Sorenson Dep. 22:11-14, 23:14-21, 24:1-9, Ind. Defs.' Ex. 9.) All deputes upon hiring complete a three-and-a-half-week orientation program that includes classes on suicide prevention. Id. at 25:21-26:3. The new hires then complete an eight-week field training program, where a deputy who has already completed the training instructs the new hire by example, and this process covers the jail's Suicide Policy. Id. at 26:20-21, 27:12-28:1, 28:20-29:23. Additionally, all jail staff receives an annual training on mental health risks and suicide prevention. Id. at 30:14-25. This annual mental health training purposely occurs sometime in the fall, prior to the holidays, because that is a “high-stress” time for people, especially for those arrested and separated from families. Id. 59:13-21; H. Johnson Dep. 7:10-8:10, Ind. Defs.' Ex. 11.

         There have been suicides in LCDC before; though, in the 16-plus years that Defendant Danny Glick has been Sheriff, there have been fewer than ten. (Glick Dep. 5:17, 46:6-14, Ind. Defs.' Ex. 10.) Five of those occurred in 2015 and 2016. Id. at 46:15-17. But, there have been many more attempted suicides that were successfully stopped through some form of prevention or intervention. See Id. at 46:21-23, 54:4-15; Sorensen Dep. 22:5-10 (25 to 30 attempted suicides annually); H. Johnson Dep. 15:5-16:16; Weiland Dep. 16:22-18:12, Ind. Defs.' Ex. 12.

         Defendant Wayne Graves is the Mental Health Services Coordinator for LCSD. His responsibilities are “to plan, direct, manage, and deliver psychological services with all components of Laramie County Government, but primarily with staff and Inmates of the Laramie County Sheriff's Department.” (Pls.' Ex. 3-5-B, ECF No. 101-8.) His essential duties include coordination of psychological services to LCDC inmates with primary focus on providing mental health services to jail staff and inmates, providing psychological services to inmates, and assessment and management of inmates with active suicidal behaviors. Id. at 1.

         In December of 2015, LCDC mental health staff consisted of Glenna Hansen and Russ Martens, who Graves supervised. Graves has a Master of Social Work degree and is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. (Graves Dep. 9:2-3, 11:21-12:7, County Ex. 13.) Martens has bachelor's degrees in psychology and sociology and a master's degree in clinical psychology. (Martens Dep. 7:9-22, County Ex. 12.) Prior to working at LCDC, Martens worked for ten years at the Arapahoe County Jail in Arapahoe County, Colorado as a classification officer and member of the mental health staff. Id. at 8:9-9:9. At the time relevant to these proceedings, Martens was working as a provisionally licensed professional counselor under the supervision of Graves and other private clinical supervisors. Id. at 11:7-25; Graves Dep. 28:16-32:16. Hansen has a master's degree in counselor education and is a licensed mental health counselor. (Hansen Dep. 9:2-6, Pls.' Ex. 10.)

         On Friday, December 18, 2015, 19-year-old Hunter Johnson, believing he was going to start outpatient treatment for alcohol the following Monday, went out for a “last hurrah.” (D. Johnson Dep. 59:17-60:10, County Ex. 1, ECF No. 93-1.) At approximately 1:23 a.m. on Saturday, December 19, 2015, Cheyenne Police Department (“CPD”) officers JoAnne Young and Lisa Koeppel responded to a call at the Walmart in Cheyenne where an intoxicated Hunter was causing a disturbance. (Young Dep. 16:22-17:8, County Ex. 2; CPD Incident Report, County Ex. 3.) Hunter's parents, David and Brenda Johnson, were also present at the Walmart having been notified by a third party of Hunter's whereabouts. (D. Johnson Dep. 57:16-24.) Hunter's parents were observing Hunter, who was inside the Walmart, from the entrance vestibule, when Officers Young and Koeppel arrived. Id. at 57:25-59:11. David Johnson told the officers about Hunter's alcohol and depression issues and warned them they might need backup to arrest his son. Id. at 59:12-60:18.

         When the officers made contact with Hunter inside the Walmart, he was informed he was under arrest, he resisted, and he was taken to the ground and handcuffed. (Young Dep. 17:7-18:5.) A bottle of beer was found in his coat pocket. (Young Dep. 18:6; County Ex. 3.) As the officers escorted Hunter from the Walmart, Hunter saw his parents and began to curse and yell at them. (Young Dep. 18:23-25; County Ex. 3.) Once outside, Hunter again began resisting and tried to get away from the officers, at which point he was taken to the ground a second time. (Young Dep. 18:25-19:15; County Ex. 3.) Hunter, again cursing and yelling at his parents, continued to resist the officers by kicking his legs violently. (Young Dep. 23:17-27:21; County Ex. 3.) At about this point during the altercation, Hunter indicated he was suicidal and demanded he be taken to the hospital. (Young Dep. 28:4-18.) Eventually, Hunter was restrained using a WRAP device and placed in a patrol car. Id. at 33:1-2. Hunter then forcefully banged his head against the door window of the patrol car two to four times so he was placed in a sparring helmet. Id. at 33:5-19, 37:13-38:13; County Ex. 3. Because Hunter continued to hit his now padded head against the window, he was removed from the patrol car for eventual transport to the LCDC by ambulance strapped to a gurney. (Young Dep. 33:17-24, 41:9-22; County Ex. 3.) While waiting for the ambulance, David Johnson informed the arresting officers his son had been subject to previous emergency detentions. (Young Dep. 28:25-30:22, 41:23-42:8, 43:7-19.) Hunter was charged with breach of the peace, interference with a peace officer, and being a minor under the influence of alcohol. (County Ex. 3.)

         Hunter was booked into LCDC at approximately 2:30 a.m. December 19, 2015. (Laramie County Sheriff's Department Strip Search Report, County Ex. 5.) At that time, he signed a form authorizing the release of his health care information from Cheyenne Regional Medical Center. (Pls.' Ex. 3-4, ECF No. 101-6 at 212.) The arresting officer, Jo Young, completed the upper portion of LCDC's “Inmate Screening Form” indicating Hunter had made suicidal statements and informed the detention center booking officer, Deputy Kemp, of the same. (Young Dep. 56:24-59:8, 64:18-65:23; County Ex. 6.) Deputy Kemp placed Hunter in a safety suit, put him on a 15-minute close watch, and notified the mental health staff of the situation.[1] (Close Watch Report, County Ex. 7, ECF No. 93-7 at 6; Kemp Dep. 32:4-9, County Ex. 4.) Hunter was observed every 12-13 minutes until he was cleared from the 15-minute watch at 1:11 p.m. that same day by LCDC mental health staff member Russell Martens, who noted Hunter denied any suicidal ideations. (County Ex. 7 at 8-10 (watch log), 18.)

         During this December 19th meeting with Martens, Hunter further denied ever telling the arresting officer he was suicidal and denied any history of suicidal ideations. (Martens' notes, Ind. Defs.' Ex. 5.) Hunter acknowledged his misbehavior during his arrest and asked how long he would have to be in jail, because he was scheduled to start rehab in a week. Id. Hunter also asked for normal clothes and a phone call. Id. Martens found Hunter to be “future oriented, ” polite, and cooperative. Id. Martens cleared Hunter from the 15-minute watch, placed him on a 30-minute follow-up watch, and approved him for regular clothes. Id. (See also Martens Dep. 22:2, Ind. Defs.' Ex. 15; Ind. Defs.' Ex. 4 at 11-16 (second watch log); Kemp Dep. 45:3-14, 46:10-15; Pls.' Ex. 31-13 at 40.)

         Two days later, on December 21, 2015, at approximately 2:56 p.m., Glenna Hansen interviewed Hunter and removed him from the suicide watch. (Hansen's Progress Notes, Ind. Defs.' Ex. 6 at 3.) Hansen recorded the following from her interview:

Inmate Johnson was on a 30 min follow-up watch. He presented as groggy as he had just woken up. He reported that he was coping with his situation. His court got moved to tomorrow and he hopes he gets out then. He denies suicidal ideation and denies any difficulty eating or sleeping. He is future-oriented. Inmate Johnson presented as stable, no SI. Discontinue watch, schedule for follow-up visits.

Id. (emphasis added). Although Hunter had a history of mental health issues, Hansen testified an inmate's mental health history is not the decisive factor; the determination whether to end a mental health watch is based on the inmate's “current situation, current behavior, [and] current statements.” (Hansen Dep. 79:10-11, Ind. Defs.' Ex. 16.) “We can't say . . . a person was suicidal last week, so we have to keep them on a watch[.]” Id. at 79:12-14. Given her meeting with Hunter, Hansen felt it was appropriate to end Hunter's 30-minute watch and allow him to be placed in a regular cell. (Hansen Dep. 65:13-66:19; Ind. Defs.' Ex. 4 at 11, 16.) However, while Hunter was taken off a 30- minute mental health watch, the jail's medical staff had separately put Hunter on a 30-minute medical watch for alcohol withdrawal. (Stephens Dep. 60:13-16, Ind. Defs.' Ex. 17.)

         The next day, December 22, 2015, Hunter appeared in Circuit Court for his initial hearing on the charges stemming from his December 19th arrest. (Davis Dep. 15:3-14, Ind. Defs.' Ex. 20.) Brian Davis and Jesse Ward were sheriff's deputies working court security that day. Id. Near the end of the hearing, Hunter told the judge he wanted to go home. (Ward Dep. 13:18-20, Ind. Defs.' Ex. 21.) He then turned away from the judge and began moving toward the door as if he was going to walk out of the courtroom, rather than go to the courtroom holding area that led back to the jail. (Ward Dep. 13:20-22; Davis Dep. 19:15-20:5.) Davis intercepted Hunter, put his hand on Hunter's arm, and escorted him back to the holding area. (Davis Dep. 20:6-17; Ward Dep. 14:3-7.) Hunter was “kind of pulling against” Davis as the two went back to the holding area. (Ward Dep. 14:8-9.) Ward followed them into the holding area to assist. Id. at 14:10. At that point, Hunter began wrestling with the officers. Id. at 15:22-16:11. After a struggle, the deputies were able to get Hunter on the ground and handcuffed. Id. at 16:11-21, 25:12-14. Hunter was helped to his feet but continued to pull away, so Davis employed a wristlock to gain compliance. Id. at 17:7-14. The deputies escorted Hunter back to the jail, to a holding cell in booking, and then returned to the courtroom. Id. at 17:19-18:8. Neither deputy considered Hunter's actions suicidal. (Davis Dep. 36:18-24; Ward Dep. 27:25-28:14.) Davis had put inmates on a suicide watch “easily . . . a couple hundred times.” (Davis Dep. 36:6-12.) As Ward explained:

I saw outward anger. I saw it directed toward us. And I've seen that before with other inmates. And other people that did not like the results that they got from the judge. And that did not result in a suicide attempt. But I saw outward anger . . . directed toward us, not what I would consider an inner anger that's self-directed and/or . . . contemplated self-harm.

(Ward Dep. 28:4-12.)

         Jennifer Stephens was the jail's shift supervisor on December 22, 2015 when Hunter returned from court. (Stephens Dep. 48:16, 51:18-21.) Davis “radioed ahead” to Stephens that he was bringing Hunter to B pod; Stephens responded the jail did not have room in B pod, so she advised Davis to take Hunter to booking until she could make some room in B pod. Id. at 51:22-52:3. When Hunter and the deputies arrived at booking, Davis explained Hunter had tried to walk out of court and resisted when the deputies tried to put him in handcuffs and escort him back to the jail. Id. at 52:5-8. B-pod contains the jail's single occupancy, segregation cells meant for inmates who present a safety and security risk or have attempted an escape. Id. at 47:7-12; Martens Dep. 38:18-20. Because there was not an open cell in B-pod when Hunter returned from court, Stephens placed him in a booking cell at approximately 11:01 a.m., until staff could relocate an inmate and open a space. (Stephens Dep. 54:23-24; County Ex. 22, Time Stamp 11:01 a.m.)

         Hunter received a sack lunch at about 11:06 a.m. (Pls.' Ex. 34, Holding Cell Video, Time Stamp 11:06 a.m.) At noon, Stephens looked into Hunter's cell and observed him standing on the toilet and putting something into the vent. Id. at 12:00:09 p.m. Stephens requested another deputy retrieve the keys and remove all trash from the cell, which was done. Id. at 12:00:39. Also at one point, Stephens noticed Hunter was sitting and crying, so she called mental health staff to check on him and “clear him to go to B pod.” (Stephens Dep. 53:2-3, 56:3-5, 60:4-9.) Stephens did not put Hunter on a suicide watch herself because, although Hunter's behavior was concerning enough to involve the mental health staff, it did not necessarily indicate Hunter was suicidal. Id. at 61:2-62:6, 71:23-72:9. Stephens advised the mental health staff member who came to talk to Hunter, Russ Martens, that she was planning to put Hunter in B-pod and wanted to get mental health's clearance for that. Id. at 75:19-24; Martens Dep. 34:4-7.

         Darci Flint-Baker was another deputy working the booking area on December 22, 2015. (Flint-Baker Dep. 7:9-12, 15:5, Ind. Defs.' Ex. 19.) Part of her job was to check on inmates in the booking cells at least twice per hour, but she tended to do her “watch rotations” every 12 to 13 minutes and recalls doing so that day. Id. at 16:10, 16:25-17:3, 18:5-6, 21:25-22:18. During those rounds, Deputy Flint-Baker spoke briefly with Hunter; he asked if he was going to court again and when he was going home, but she did not know. Id. at 42:7-16, 43:24-25, 44:11-12. Flint-Baker never saw Hunter crying, acting unusual, or appearing upset. Id. at 16:16-24, 43:16-18. She was aware Hunter had been on suicide watch earlier and then cleared. Id. at 19:14-19, 20:15-21. And she was aware of Hunter's outburst in court. Id. at 15:3. She also remembers contacting mental health staff to clear Hunter for B-pod. Id. at 25:14-18, 26:8-16, 27:16-19.

         Just after noon, Hunter again met with mental health provider Russ Martens while still in a holding cell in the booking area of the jail. (Stephens Dep. 65:7-13; Martens Dep. 33:19-34:34:3.) Martens talked with Hunter for some 22 minutes. (See County Ex. 26, Time Stamp 12:03-12:25.) Regarding this meeting, Martens noted:

Inmate was seen in CBO after he “went off in court” Inmate appeared calm “I don't want to be here” “I told them that they could have a deputy stay in my room at home and I could be released” “I don't think I have a problem” Inmate stated a [history] of bipolar disorder, depression, ADHD. Inmate denied any current [suicidal ideation]. Inmate stated that he cannot read[.] He presents as if he may be developmentally delayed[;] he was in special ed during school. He graduated without being able to read. ...

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