New Castle News

September 26, 2012

Family files federal lawsuit over jail suicide

Debbie Wachter
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Family members of a woman who hanged herself in jail October 2011 are suing Lawrence County and its jail officials.

They also have named Prime Care Medical Inc. of Harrisburg, the jail’s contracted medical service, in the lawsuit that was filed Monday in federal district court on behalf of the late Kathleen Ann Rogan.

The suit was filed by her mother, Marcie A. Rogan of Ellwood City, and James N. Raisley of Slippery Rock. Raisley is the father of Kathleen Ann Rogan’s child.

As co-administrators of the 31-year-old Kathleen Ann Rogan’s estate, they are seeking more than $100,000 in damages from her Oct. 11 death on behalf of her estate and her two children.

Rogan had been arrested Oct. 7 on child endangerment charges in connection with the care of her daughter and was admitted to the jail.

At the time of her arrest, Rogan was visibly under the influence of illegal substances and was emotionally unstable, according to the lawsuit, filed by attorneys Jonathan Solomon of New Castle and Philip W. Berezniak of Ellwood City.

The lawsuit contends that Rogan had a history of previous suicide attempts, drug dependency and mental impairment.



VULNERABILITY TO SUICIDE

The suit further contends that Rogan had a particular vulnerability to suicide that represented a serious medical need. It notes that Warden Brian Covert and another jail employee in booking her had notice that she had three lengthy scars on her left arm from a suicide attempt with a razor blade in June, 2010.

The suit notes that during intake at the jail, Rogan was tested and scored high as a risk for suicide, and that she had threatened that “I will kill myself if I get a chance.” She also answered “no” to the question on the test that asked if she has anything to look forward to in life.

As a result, jail employees put her into an isolation cell for 24-hour suicide watch, the lawsuit says, noting that while the customary duration of 24-hour suicide watch is seven days, Rogan was kept there for just over two days.

On Oct. 10, jail employees instead placed her on intermittent observation for periods of every 30 minutes in a regular cell that had bedsheets and an upper bunk, the filing says.

The lawsuit also notes that a jail physician and mental health worker from Prime Care evaluated her on that date and cleared her for the 30-minute watch.

According to the lawsuit, Rogan during the night of October 10 to 11 took her bedsheet, knotted it into a noose and tied it to the upper bunk in her cell and hanged herself. Jail employees found her in the cell around 10 a.m. Oct. 11.

The lawsuit contends that jail employees failed to observe Rogan for the intermittent 30-minute periods and instead left her unobserved during the night and morning.

Rogan had informed jail personnel that she was taking one or more prescribed antidepressant medications and methadone and was under the treatment of a mental health professional, according to the lawsuit.



LACK OF ACTION

The lawsuit contends that none of the jail or Prime Care employees took any action to obtain the medication needed for her physical and psychological stability, nor was she seen by any health care professional or physician when she was admitted.

The attorneys contend that no jail employees reviewed Rogan’s prior medical history while she was in custody, and they did not contact her mental health professional or her personal physician.

Throughout the filing, the attorneys maintained that jail employees showed “deliberate indifference” to Rogan’s health and safety and her rights, which caused her death.

The lawsuit claims that Rogan and her family have the right to health and safety under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

It further claims that the jail officials placed Rogan in a dangerous situation that was foreseeable, and that they acted with “deliberate disregard” for a substantial risk of serious harm to Rogan.

County solicitor Thomas W. Leslie declined comment about the case yesterday, saying the county had not yet been served with the court papers.

Solomon declined further comment. Attempts to reach Berezniak were unsuccessful yesterday.

(Email: dwachter@ncnewsonline.com)