October, 2010 Issue of Legal Trends

Legal Trends Focuses on Jail Suicide Case and Other Employment Law Victories

In this issue of Legal Trends, we analyze a settlement in a civil rights case involving a jail suicide in Shelby County, Illinois. We also focus in on two other employment law cases with very successful resolutions.

Civil Rights Law
Hollander Law Offices Settles Jail Suicide Case for Record $350,000.

Jason Wayne Cox, Sr. had a troubled life, but was in the process of turning his life around when he was incarcerated on June 11, 2008. Tragically for him and his survivors, Mr. Cox took his own life on June 21, 2008. His estate filed suit in the federal court in Springfield, and on August 23, 2010, The Law Offices of Eugene K. Hollander obtained a record settlement of $350,000.

Jason grew up in a troubled home. He had stated to social workers that his father physically abused him and that his mother emotionally neglected him. Jason was divorced, but had an on and off relationship with Crystal Perks, the mother of his two children, now 7 and 17. In 2006, Jason and Crystal broke up, and he moved to Mississippi. Mr. Cox had abused a number of drugs, including marijuana, meth, cocaine and crack. In January, 2008, Mr. Cox had a suicide attempt when he walked down the street and tried to get hit by a car.

In May, 2008, Jason returned to Shelbyville, Shelby County, Illinois. Upon his return, Jason went to live with Crystal, her friend, Kelly, and Kelly’s parents, Nancy and Jack Schurman. Jason had just secured employment with International Paper and required a pair of work boots to start his job.

On June 11, Jason requested $50 from Jack Schurman so he could purchase the boots, but Mr. Schurman refused. A dispute ensued, and the police were called. Jason was arrested and charged with criminal trespass to property, and was transported to the Shelby County Detention Center. That was the last time that Crystal saw the father of her children.

Upon his incarceration, a correctional officer completed a Suicide Prevention Screening Form and a mental health intake form. The officer documented Jason’s previous suicide attempt and further noted that Jason had a prior psychiatric history, and that he was “bi-polar/depressed.” The officer recorded that Jason lacked family and friends in the community and had a history of alcohol and drug abuse. The officer found that Mr. Cox was agitated and distraught during his interview.

On June 13, 2008, Jason appeared before the Honorable Michael McHaney on his criminal trespass charge. Jason had an outburst and swore before the judge. The court sentenced him to six months for criminal contempt. Because of his incarceration, Jason lost his job at International Paper.

After Jason returned from court, he acted very irrationally, was verbally abusive to the correctional officers and told Officer Adam Smith that he wanted to “kick his ass.” While Jason was shackled, he tried to head butt Officer Smith and tried to kick another individual. Chief McQueen of the Windsor Police Department, who happened to be at the detention center, tased Jason to subdue him. Jason was transported to a padded cell. Jason continued to be verbally abusive and head butted the cell, causing him to bleed.

The protocol of the Shelby County Detention Center is that once an inmate is placed into a padded cell, a social worker from a local agency is called in to evaluate that individual. On that day, Cheryl Anne Woods came and evaluated Jason. In conjunction with her evaluation, Ms. Woods completed a Suicide Prevention Assessment Form.

Ms. Woods recorded a history which reflected Jason’s prior suicide attempt. In regard to his incarceration, Jason told Ms. Woods that he did not know “if he could stand it.” Ms. Woods did not attempt to obtain Jason’s prior medical records, follow up with Jason after that date, nor did she advise the jail to increase its supervision of him. Jason was then returned to his cell. He was not placed on suicide watch.

Jason was placed in cell 128, which consisted of three separate pods, where each inmate slept. The cell door had a small window, but a correctional officer looking through it could not see if Jason was in his pod. One of Jason’s cellmates was David Mullins.

During his incarceration, Jason told Mullins, “that he was depressed a lot.” On one occasion, Mullins witnessed Jason break down and cry for one half hour. On June 21, 2008, Jason tried to call the Schurman residence but Nancy Schurman refused the call. She indicated to the jail that she did not want Jason to call again.

Illinois law requires that the jail make personal observation of non-suicidal inmates every thirty minutes. On June 21, 2008, the correctional officers scanned the bar code on the cell door at about 1:15 P.M., but did not make any visual or oral contact with Jason for over the next three and one half hours. When the jail personnel were passing out dinner, Jason was found dead – he had hung himself with a sheet.

Jason’s estate filed suit against Shelby County, Sheriff Michael Miller, a number of correctional officers and Woods. Jason’s estate claimed that he was subjected to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the U.S. Constitution. During the course of discovery, the estate’s lawyers learned that Sheriff Miller had repeatedly requested increased funding from the County to add correctional officers, but was turned down. Additionally, the Illinois Department of Corrections had cited the jail two months earlier for not providing 30 minute personal observations of inmates.

The settlement was the largest for a jail suicide case arising out of this jurisdiction, according to the Cook County Jury Verdict Reporter, a service which tracks settlements and verdicts in the state.

Employment Law

D.C. Hairstylist Settles Harassment Suit for $7 million.

A Washington, D.C. hairstylist to the city’s elite, Andre Chreky, settled a sexual harassment case brought against him by a former employee for $7 million. The settlement came on the heels of another sexual harassment suit that was resolved earlier this year by another employee for $2.3 million.

Jennifer Thong, whose case was scheduled for trial, alleged that Chreky ripped her underwear off with such force that it left a bruise, and on another occasion, attempted to have forced sexual intercourse with her. The women are not likely to get their money right away, however. Chreky filed for bankruptcy, and the former employees claims are now being litigated in bankruptcy court.

Chrysler Pipefitter Awarded $4.2 Million in Coworker Harassment Case.

On September 2, a federal court jury in Rockford awarded a factory worker $4.2 million for suffering from coworker harassment. Otto May, a Jewish employee who emigrated from Cuba, presented evidence that his coworkers left messages like “Heil Hitler” on his locker and made disparaging remarks about his country of origin. The verdict consisted of $709,000 in compensatory damages and $3.5 million in punitive damages.


Office News

Eugene K. Hollander has prepared an online seminar for Lawline, entitled, “Selecting the Employment Discrimination Case.”

About the author

Eugene Hollander is a trial attorney who currently heads his own law office in Chicago. Mr. Hollander has tried numerous cases in the state and federal courts. The Law Offices of Eugene K. Hollander is a full service law firm, concentrating its practice in employment discrimination claims, personal injury and medical malpractice suits, and various types of commercial litigation. For more information, visit our web site at www.eugenekhollanderlaw.com, or contact us directly at:

The Law Offices of Eugene K. Hollander
33 N. Dearborn
Suite 2300
Chicago, IL 60602
E-mail: EHollander@ekhlaw.com

Copyright © 2010 The Law Offices of Eugene K. Hollander. This publication may be considered advertising material under the Illinois Code of Professional Responsibility and is not intended to create any attorney-client relationship. The reader should not rely upon any statement or opinion as legal advice, but rather, should consider it as generally informative.