Parents of prison inmate who hanged himself sue Northampton County, Pa.

By Jon Campisi | Oct 31, 2011

The parents of a prison inmate who committed suicide by hanging himself with a bed sheet has filed a federal civil rights claim against the Pennsylvania county in which the deceased man was incarcerated and various other officials involved with his care.

Philadelphia attorneys Gerald J. Williams and Beth G. Cole, of the firm Williams Cuker Berezofsky, LLC, filed the civil action Oct. 27 at federal court in Philadelphia on behalf of Marundah and Cletis Brown of Bethlehem, Pa.

The defendants in the lawsuit are Northampton County; Robert Meyers, who is listed as the Northampton County Prison director of corrections; PrimeCare Medical, Inc.; and Heidi Cushard, a medical assistant working for PrimeCare.

According to the complaint, Kareem Miller, the deceased son of the plaintiff’s, killed himself on Dec. 22, 2009, while in solitary confinement in a prison cell at the county jail. He was 21 years old at the time of his death.

The lawsuit alleges that Miller, who had a history of anxiety, depression and suicidal tendencies, was not properly cared for while incarcerated.

From Dec. 20 to 22, while he was segregated from the rest of the prison population following an altercation with a fellow inmate, Miller did not receive the proper psychiatric or mental health treatment, consultation or evaluation, “despite his obviously serious need,” the lawsuit claims.

“In material part, this failure was caused by PrimeCare’s systematic failure to provide adequate numbers of adequately trained staff to deal with the psychiatric and mental health needs of Northampton County inmates,” the lawsuit states.

Miller’s problems with the law started on Christmas Day 2008, when he was arrested on charges of criminal conspiracy and receiving stolen property, at which time he was sent to Warren County Correctional Center in Belvidere, N.J. He remained there for 14 months.

It was during that time that a prison nurse screened Miller, noting his history of anxiety of depression, which included hospital admission in 2007 for psychiatric treatment.

At the prison, Miller was first placed on “psych watch,” and then suicide watch, from late December 2008 through early January 2009, the suit states.

Throughout his New Jersey incarceration, Miller continued to exhibit anxiety and depression and remained under the care of mental health staff and physicians who treated him with psychotropic medications.

In February 2009, Miller was transferred to the Northampton County, [Pa.] Prison to await trial on his criminal charges. The previous prison’s discharge instructions included a list of medications that Miller was taking at the time of his transfer. The New Jersey prison also provided Pennsylvania officials with information including Miller’s need to remain on a suicide watch. The records were available to the defendant, PrimeCare.

As soon as he was committed to Northampton County Prison Miller exhibited “clear suicidal intentions and behavior,” the lawsuit states. He went on to receive ongoing treatment from PrimeCare physicians and mental health staff.

Finally, in October 2009, Miller was convicted of the criminal charges against him, and was re-committed to Northampton County Prison to serve out his term.

After returning to prison, Miller continued to exhibit signs of anxiety and depression, had to undergo continued to treatment and stay medicated.

On Dec. 20, Miller got involved in a verbal altercation with another inmate, after which he was remanded to a solitary cell as punishment, the suit states.

“Handcuffing and segregation markedly increase risk of suicide,” the lawsuit states.

These policies, the suit claims, were “constitutionally defective,” and were a material cause of Miller’s eventual death.

The lawsuit accuses the defendants of constitutional violations. It also contains wrongful death and survival claims.

The plaintiffs seek unspecified compensatory and exemplary damages, as well as attorney’s fees and other court costs.

A jury trial is being sought.

The federal case number is 2:11-cv-06738-AB.

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