A jury in Topeka has cleared two Shawnee County jailers of negligence in the death of an inmate who hanged himself with a sheet after 38 days in custody, part of which he spent under suicide watch.
The jury in Shawnee County District Court deliberated less than 45 minutes Friday before returning the verdict in the lawsuit brought by Cathy Thomas, mother of Anthony Stapleton, who was 28 when he killed himself in November 2002, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported.
Thomas initially sued in federal court, but that lawsuit was dismissed in 2005. She then filed suit in state court but lost again in 2007 when Shawnee County District Judge Larry Hendricks — after hearing testimony — ruled in a summary judgment that there was no evidence of negligence and the defendants had immunity under Kansas law.
But the Kansas Supreme Court last year cleared the way for a trial, finding that the lawsuit against the two jailers and Shawnee County could proceed.
Thomas’s lawsuit noted in part that her son was among six inmates who committed suicide between December 1998 and October 2003 while in custody of the Shawnee County Corrections Department.
Stapleton received seven suicide evaluations by mental health evaluations during the weeks he was held awaiting trial on a charge of aggravated robbery. He spent part of his detention on suicide watch but was placed a few days before his death on a less stringent “close observation” watch requiring a well-being check at least once every 15 minutes and barring inmates from covering the windows of their cells.
According to fellow inmates, Stapleton had talked of killing himself before he wedged a sheet into the door of his cell, covered the window and hanged himself. Three suicide notes were found in the cell, which was within sight of a guard station.
The jury in the five-day trial concluded there was insufficient evidence that the two jailers named in the lawsuit knew or should have known there was an unreasonable risk that Stapleton would commit suicide.