Wife of Ottawa County inmate who committed suicide in 2013 files lawsuit

Wife of Ottawa County inmate who committed suicide in 2013 files lawsuit

Sep 12, 2015
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(read the article in the Holland Sentinel)

The wife of a man who in 2013 hung himself in his Ottawa County jail cell is suing the county and three jail deputies, claiming they failed to protect him from himself.

Scott Meirs, who was in jail on second-degree home invasion charges, was found trying to asphyxiate himself with bedding from the cell on Aug. 9, 2013. He died five days later in a Muskegon hospital.

Vanessa Meirs, his wife, filed a wrongful death lawsuit on Aug. 26 in the United States District Court in Grand Rapids claiming the deputies failed to appropriately respond to his medical needs and claims of suicidal thoughts.

Meirs was arrested Aug. 4, 2013, after a neighbor reported he had broken into her home to steal prescription drugs.

Meirs, a veteran, was being treated by the Veterans Administration for post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, chronic pain and drug addiction, according to the lawsuit complaint, submitted by Goodman & Hurwitz, P.C., a law firm out of Detroit.

The lawsuit names deputies Linda Cashman, Gene Murin and Joseph Dirette, in addition to the county, as the defendants.

In the complaint, Vanessa Meirs’ attorneys claim deputies alleged disregard of Scott Meirs’ suicidal condition violated his rights.

Scott Meirs was taking methadone and gabapentin, prescribed for treatment for his drug addiction, the lawsuit claimed.

Jail officials placed him on “opiate withdrawal” protocol, but that was discontinued on Aug. 7, 2013. Scott Meirs was then placed in the jail’s general population.

Douglas W. Van Essen, attorney for the county, stated in his response to the lawsuit Scott Meirs “specifically denied” to jail officials having any history of mental illness or treatment for suicidal ideation.

On Aug. 7, a deputy was advised by another inmate that Scott Meirs had threatened suicide. Van Essen said deputies were told Scott Meirs would commit suicide “the next time he had access to a razor.”

He went on to say the deputy, Cashman, spoke with Scott Meirs and “did not believe that he was in immediate distress but intended to go to sleep for the evening.” Cashman intended to refer the matter to the jail’s mental health staff at the end of her shift.

The following day, Scott Meirs again made complaints about lack of medication provided and threatened suicide. He was taken out of general population’s “free time” and placed in his jail cell for violating jail rules, the lawsuit claims. Neither side specified what rules were broken.

Scott Meirs, who died days later, committed suicide at approximately 1:44 a.m. that next morning, Aug. 9, 2013.

Throughout the night, deputies had conducted regular “walk-bys,” the lawsuit claims approximately one hour apart.

Attorneys for Vanessa Meirs claimed this, along with claims Scott Meirs’ alleged requests for medication were disregarded, was inadequate response to his known medical condition.

“This systemic lack of an adequate response and/or procedure constituted a custom, practice and/or policy that affirmatively failed to address the serious medical needs of suicidal inmates such as Scott Meirs,” the lawsuit states.

Van Essen stated Scott Meirs failed to request any medical assistance.

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