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Family of man who died by suicide in Spokane County Jail files wrongful death suit

According to the lawsuit, Chris Rogers made suicidal statements and was placed on a "mental health hold" after being arrested on Nov. 28, 2017.
Credit: KREM
The Spokane County Jail

SPOKANE COUNTY, Wash. — The family of a man who died by suicide in the Spokane County Jail is suing the county and a healthcare provider for $5.25 million claiming he was not properly cared for before his death.

The Estate of Chris Rogers filed the wrongful death suit against Spokane County and NaphCare, who is contracted to provide medical and mental health services at the jail, on Dec. 21.

According to the lawsuit, Rogers made suicidal statements and was placed on a ‘mental health hold’ after being arrested on Nov. 28, 2017 for robbery, assault, theft of a motor vehicle and hit and run. He was then found hanging in his jail cell on Jan. 3, 2018 after calling the Public Defender’s Office, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit says on the day after his arrest, pre-trial services for Spokane County submitted a report that Rogers had mental health concerns, was prescribed medication for the concerns and there was a ‘mental health hold’ from Frontier Behavior Health.

NaphCare was treating Rogers while he was in the Spokane County Jail, according to the suit. When Rogers was asked if he would ‘notify staff if they plan to act on suicidal thoughts or impulses,’ the lawsuit says he indicated to staff ‘No.’

Later in the day, medical staff at the jail said Rogers was voicing suicidal thoughts and received medication for schizophrenia, the lawsuit says.

Rogers was Removed from suicide watch at 10:39 a.m. the day after his arrest, just eight hours after being placed on watch, according to the lawsuit. Medical staff also noted that Rogers had a previous suicide attempt by hanging in 2014, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit says on the day of Rogers’ first court appearance jail records show no one from the Public Defender’s Office met with him before the appearance where bond was imposed.

Rogers was seen by Frontier Behavioral Health on Dec. 15, 2017 for 15 minutes, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit claims Rogers called the Public Defender’s Office five times between Nov. 30 and Dec. 8 and each time Rogers hung up after a minute or two. He met with counsel on Dec. 8 for 15 minutes, the lawsuit says.

On Dec. 11, 2017, the lawsuit says an order was entered on behalf of Rogers for a competency evaluation to be completed by Eastern State Hospital. Two days later, a doctor from Eastern State Hospital and counsel from the Public Defender’s Office met in a visitation booth at the jail to complete the evaluation, according to court documents.

From Dec. 13 to Dec. 22 Rogers called his public defender four times, the lawsuit says. Of those calls, the lawsuit says two of the calls were not accepted by the Public Defender’s Office and twice Rogers hung up.

Rogers then told medical staff on Dec. 20 that “voices also tell him to kill himself,” the lawsuit says.

On Dec. 22, the lawsuit says Rogers was placed in a restraint chair where his arms and legs were restrained by detention staff after he was found with a towel tied around his neck. He was then placed on a mental health watch, according to the lawsuit. 

Rogers was removed from suicide watch the next day, the lawsuit says. 

From Dec. 22 to Jan. 3, court documents said Rogers called the Public Defender’s Office six times, with no call lasting more than three minutes. The last phone call he made was at 10:12 a.m. on Jan. 3 to the Public Defender’s Office and lasted two minutes, according to the lawsuit. Rogers was found hanging in his cell less than an hour after the phone call, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit claims the Public Defender’s Office employed a practice of “holding cases,” where cases were not assigned to an attorney because the attorney had reached the maximum number of assigned cases in a month. The suit also claims the Public Defender’s Office didn’t have policies, procedures, practices or training to address clients who have known mental health disorders. The public defender’s office didn’t employ or utilize a social worker, mental health professional or other person experienced with client needs, according to the suit.

The lawsuit also states that Rogers’ case was not assigned as a result of caseload standard limitations and no one in the office was actively monitoring his mental health status.

According to the lawsuit, NaphCare didn’t adequately evaluate Rogers for mental health issues and never provided him with treatment.   

The lawsuit claims both agencies were negligent and showed deliberate indifference. It also claims they violated Rogers’ 14th Amendment rights by failing to provide safe confinement conditions and provide needed medical care.