Sheridan County agrees to settlement in jail suicides

Published Friday May 7, 2010
BY TIMBERLY ROSS (The Associated Press)

OMAHA – Sheridan County has agreed to pay $100,000 to a grieving mother and improve suicide-prevention policies at its jail as part of a settlement over deaths there, an attorney in the case announced Thursday.

The county has been set to go to trial Monday in a wrongful-death case brought by Arlyn Eastman/Broken Nose of Rapid City, S.D., whose son hung himself at the jail in July 2005.

An attorney for the county, Michael Javoronok, denies an agreement has been reached. However, a lawyer for Eastman/Broken Nose said there is one, and court filings reflect that.

The 2007 lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court said a sheriff’s deputy and a jailer failed to follow county policy during the arrest and booking of 20-year-old Lino “Jay” Spotted Elk. His death was the fourth suicide at the jail since 1998; eight other inmates attempted suicide at least once between 1998 and 2005.

The lawsuit also said the county failed to train jail employees on suicide prevention.

Eastman/Broken Nose’s attorney, Maren Chaloupka, said the county agreed Thursday morning to the monetary settlement and to allow the mother and a Lakota medicine man to pray at the jail for the release of Spotted Elk’s spirit.

The county also agreed to train staff in the sheriff’s office and jail on suicide prevention and, when appropriate, work with prevention programs offered by the Rosebud Sioux and Oglala Sioux tribes across the border in South Dakota, she said.

Javoronok said late Thursday that the county is in negotiations and hasn’t agreed to anything. He said he would deal with the court filing on the settlement on Friday.

Chaloupka said in a statement that 11 of the 12 inmates who committed or attempted suicide in the jail between 1998 and 2005 were American Indians, so it was important to Eastman/Broken Nose that the county specifically work to prevent those in the future.

Sheridan County Attorney Dennis King declined to comment on the case.

According to the statement from Chaloupka: Spotted Elk was drunk and upset when he was arrested July 19, 2005, in Rushville on a warrant for failure to appear in court. He threatened suicide and tried to hurt himself by slamming his head on the patrol car, causing an open wound. He did not get medical treatment or a mental evaluation, and he was wearing his street clothes when he was jailed. He later used his belt to hang himself.

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