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Thursday, July 6, 2017 12:08 am

Jail suicide case settled

Family of deceased inmate collects six figures

 Christian County has settled a lawsuit for more than a half-million dollars in a case filed by the family of a man who committed suicide in the county jail.

The $550,000 settlement reached last month came after U.S. District Court Judge Richard Mills in March ruled that jailers had failed in their duty to keep Dennis Adams safe. The ruling left the amount of damages the only question for a jury to decide, and so the sides settled absent a trial.

Adams hanged himself in the county jail nearly six years ago. He was arrested in August 2011, after shooting his estranged wife in the shoulder, then threatening to kill himself. Police arrested Adams after a standoff, and physicians recommended that the jail provide mental health treatment and take steps to prevent him from committing suicide.

Despite the recommendations, Adams received no mental health treatment while in jail, according to Mills’ ruling. He was initially placed in a padded cell designed to be suicide-proof, but was transferred to a different cell after another inmate deemed more suicidal than Adams was booked into the jail and given the padded cell, the only such suicide-proof cell in the 55-bed jail. Adams was locked up for 78 days before hanging himself hours before he was due to appear in court for a hearing in a divorce case filed by his wife.

Christian County Sheriff Bruce Kettelkamp said that the settlement will be paid by an insurance company. He acknowledged that the county could have done more to prevent the tragedy.

“We made some mistakes,” Kettelkamp said. “We’re correcting those mistakes. We’re in good shape now.”

In 2012, after Adams took his own life, the county hired Advanced Correctional Healthcare, a Peoria-based company, to provide medical care in the jail, and the contract includes weekly visits by a mental health professional, Kettelkamp said. Guards get training twice a year on mental health issues, he said. And the county has spent $50,000 on cameras to help guards keep tabs on inmates.

Daniel Noll, attorney for Adams’ kin, said he believes that justice has been done with the settlement. While changes in procedures aimed at preventing suicides and improving care for mentally ill inmates were not part of the settlement, Noll said he believes that the jail has taken steps to help prevent another tragedy.

“We had discussions regarding that, and our understanding is, the jail has taken corrective measures,” Noll said.

But some things remain problematic.

The Taylorville lockup still has just one padded cell designed for suicidal inmates. The jail, which was built in the 1970s, is outdated, Kettelkamp said, with a design that can make it difficult for guards to closely watch inmates who may be suicidal.

“I’m confident that we’ve done everything we can possibly do to make this place better,” Kettelkamp said. “But I don’t think you can ever be 100-percent sure that this can never happen again. … We really need a new jail. But that’s not going to happen.”

Like other sheriffs across Illinois who have called on the state to expand mental health treatment facilities, Kettelkamp says that his jail is housing mentally ill inmates who shouldn’t be locked up in a correctional setting. At any given time, Kettelkamp said, two or three inmates with significant mental health issues are locked up in the Christian County jail.

Outside Christian County, an attorney for the family of Tiffany Rusher, who was found hanging in a Sangamon County jail cell on March 18, says that he expects to sue the county in federal court. Rusher lived for about a week in an intensive care unit before she died after being disconnected from life support. Her death has been deemed a suicide.

“There’s definitely a lawsuit in the offing,” said Alan Mills, a Chicago attorney who concentrates on issues involving prisoner rights.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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