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Jail suicide case dismissal is affirmed in Court of Appeals

The family of Brent Bolton sued the Center for Forensic Psychiatry, Bolton's assigned psychiatrist and social worker, alleging that they were legally responsible for Bolton's suicide.  Bolton was a troubled individual with a fairly long history of emotional instability.  In 2001 he was found "guilty by insanity" of fleeing and eluding police officers and incarcerated at the Center.  Over the next two years, he was repeatedly assessed for suicidal intentions and periodically placed on various levels of alert and restriction.   In July of 2003, he was interviewed by police with regard to a confession of child sexual abuse, and the defendants again analyzed his suicide risk.  They ultimately maintained the least restrictive suicide measures in place, believing them to be adequate given Bolton's presentation.

When Bolton was found hanged in his cell, the family filed suit.  In order to prevail, however, they were required to show more than ordinary professional negligence.  Since the individual defendants are governmental employees immune from "ordinary negligence" the Bolton family had to show either that they were guilty of "gross negligence" [a statutorily defined category of aggravated negligence requiring proof of failure to act in the presence of a known risk] or that they were guilty of a violation of Bolton's 8th Amendment rights involving "cruel and unusual punishment."  To meet the latter proof requirement, the family would have to show that the professionals were guilty of "deliberate indifference" to Bolton's medical needs while he was incarcerated. 

After a thorough review of the actions taken by the professionals--which the family apparently did not dispute--the Court concluded that a reasonable jury could not find Bolton's treaters to have been guilty of either aggravated standard of misconduct. While the Defendants may not have exercised "due care" for Bolton's safety and may have made professional misjudgments about the care he required, their behavior did not rise to the level of fault that must be shown under the Michigan and Federal statutes that define the jail staff's legal liability.

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