West Virginia Father Sues Boone County Jail For Son’s Suicide

jailcell.jpegThe father of an inmate in Southwestern County Jail has hired a West Virginia wrongful death attorney and filed a lawsuit, claiming the jail employees did not provide his son with sufficient care. Kedron Eugene Setser committed suicide in the jail facility one year ago, and his father, Malcolm D. Setser, claims that his son suffered from numerous permanent physical and neurological injuries caused by a 1999 car accident. The injuries required continuous medical care, and also caused Kedron to suffer from depression. He was previously found to be eligible for Supplemental Security Income and childhood disability benefits.

Kedron had two felony convictions prior to being admitted to the Southwestern County jail, including a conviction for shooting into a home in Wharton. Kedron was found guilty of wanton endangerment with a firearm and felony conspiracy and sentenced to one to five years. Kedron was originally admitted to the Southwestern County jail for violation of home confinement. His father’s complaint relates to a probation officer’s treatment of one of Kedron’s physical problems, Cauda Equina Syndrome, which makes it difficult to urinate on command. Due to Kedron’s two felony convictions, he had court-ordered supervision and faced situations where urine tests were given regularly. Yet in September 2011, Kedron was unable to comply with providing a urinary test after five hours of attempts, even after he drank a substantial amount of water. Sometime after, Kedron committed suicide in his cell.

The known facts make it unclear whether Kedron’s suicide was a direct response to the incident, but that is his father’s argument. Malcolm Setser claims that among other things, the jail violated Kedron’s constitutional rights and committed disability discrimination under the West Virginia Human Rights Act. Those charged include the probation officer, Alaina Harvey; Boone County Probation Services; a home incarceration officer and deputy sheriff; the Boone County Sheriff’s Office; and the Boone County Commission. Malcolm Setser seeks compensatory and punitive damages. Compensatory damages would cover funeral, litigation, and medical costs. Malcolm Setser also seeks damages for loss of income. Attorneys representing the jail have filed a motion to dismiss the case, claiming that Malcom Setser failed to allege facts that were sufficient to establish that the probation officer was liable in his son’s death. The trial is set for August 2013.

Whether you are a patient in a hospital or an inmate in prison, you are entitled to a reasonable standard of care. From the facts as presented, it is not clear to what extent the jail might have violated that standard, if at all. While the urinary test might have lasted five hours, it is unclear what was happening at that time. Was Kedron Setser able to move around comfortably? Was he allowed to rest? Was he permitted to do some of his normal activities while waiting for the urine sample to come? Did he complain about pain or discomfort, only to be ignored? That makes a difference, because if a urinary test lasted five hours, but there is ample evidence that the probation officer took reasonable steps to ensure that Kedron was comfortable, it would be difficult to argue successfully that the probation officer’s behavior was negligent or discriminatory unless there were other circumstances involved. Even if there were negligence, whether that negligence led to Kedron’s suicide is another issue.