Family files lawsuit over death of veteran in county jail
By SANNE SPECHT | The (Medford, Oregon) Mail Tribune | Published: January 12, 2013
A wrongful death lawsuit has been filed against Jackson County by the family of an Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran who committed suicide while in custody in 2011.
The complaint, filed Wednesday in Medford's U.S. District Court, alleges Jackson County sheriff's deputies knew Benjamin Michael Fager was suicidal but failed to adequately monitor or protect him. Fager, 33, was in custody after a November 2010 arrest on a single charge of first-degree sex abuse. Fager, of Grants Pass, was initially lodged in jail on $1 million bail, which was reduced to $50,000 after his first hearing.
"Because of this indifference, a very despondent Benjamin Fager, a decorated military hero who had served his country in a time of war, hung himself in the Jackson County jail during the evening on January 9, 2011. He died on January 14, 2011, from anoxic (oxygen-deprived) brain injury, due to asphyxiation, due to the hanging," the lawsuit reads.
Calls from the Mail Tribune to Jackson County Sheriff Mike Winters were not returned Thursday.
His spokesperson, Andrea Carlson, said neither the sheriff's office nor the county counsel had been officially notified of or served with a lawsuit.
Carlson declined to answer and Winters again did not respond to more general questions regarding the jail's policies and suicidal inmates.
Kelly L. Anderson, the attorney for Brandy Fager, personal representative of Benjamin Fager, also declined to comment on the case.
However, in his filing with the court, Anderson wrote that Fager, a veteran, "had served his country in the military in Iraq and Afghanistan, had been injured in combat, and had been sent home with physical and mental wounds, including post-traumatic stress disorder."
Anderson requested a jury trial in the case.
Anderson wrote that Fager had expressed intentions of committing suicide directly to law enforcement officers, in letters to his loved ones (which were read by law enforcement officers) and to his attorney, "who had passed on suicide warnings to those responsible for the mental health of prisoners at the jail."
State police directives require the jail to "provide medical assistance whenever an inmate demonstrates, or is reported to be at risk of self-destructive behavior," Anderson wrote.
At-risk inmates must be given a "suicide assessment" by a mental health provider or a registered nurse, he wrote, adding that inmates deemed to be at "moderate risk" must be visually observed at staggered intervals, not to exceed 15 minutes, with recorded observations within each 15-minute interval.
Those inmates judged to be at "high risk" of suicide must be placed on "suicide watch," Anderson said, which requires an unobstructed view of the inmate at all times, with recorded observations made within each 15-minute interval.
Anderson said Fager was at "high risk" at the time he hung himself.
"Despite these suicide risks, jailers and medical personnel charged to safely guard Fager and provide him needed mental health services, neglected to appropriately respond to the suicide risk, and were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs," Anderson wrote.
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