Howard inmate's family sues over suicide $3 million lawsuit claims detention center was negligent

April 03, 1996|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Family members of an inmate who committed suicide in the Howard County Detention Center last December filed a $3 million negligence suit against the county yesterday, alleging that jail officers and administrators were negligent in preventing his death.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, follows reports in The Sun that detailed the questionable events leading to the Dec. 9 suicide of 31-year-old Edward Leroy Bennett of Southwest Baltimore.

In a six-count complaint against the jail and its personnel, the suit says Mr. Bennett sent warning signs that he was suicidal, including reporting that he was withdrawing from a $100- to $150-a-day heroin habit, and had a history of paranoia when he arrived at the jail Dec. 8.

The suit also alleges that jail officers were aware that Mr. Bennett told other inmates, "I don't know if I'm going to make it," and that officers knew about an incident in which he fell or threw himself down the steps of his cell-block

Moreover, the suit alleges, jail guards taunted Mr. Bennett about his drug addiction, saying, "We're going to get you your dope." Because of these and other allegations -- previously detailed in The Sun -- Mr. Bennett should have been placed in a suicide-safe cell and put on 15-minute watches, according to the suit. Instead, he was placed in the jail's general population, which attorneys for the Bennett family blame on a lack of officer training and inadequate jail policies for suicide prevention.

"I think that Howard County ought to step forward and admit that prior to this incident they had no training and policy in place to determine suicide potential," said John Amato, an attorney representing the Bennett family.

Jail officials have said their staff acted appropriately in the case. James N. Rollins, director of the detention center, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Rebecca Laws, a county attorney handling the case for the jail, said she had not seen the suit and declined comment yesterday.

After The Sun's report on the incident and at the request of Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker, the jail conducted an internal review of the case and found that the staff followed standard procedures.

The suicide came to light only after inmates sent letters to local newspapers. Since then, the county has established a policy that all deaths at the jail will be made public when they happen.

Pub Date: 4/03/96

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