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Lawsuit filed in suicide of Detention Center inmate

Several Washington County-related defendants are named in a lawsuit filed by the surviving natural parent and next of kin of Aaron Michael Bever, who committed suicide last year while an inmate in the Detention Center.
County Attorney Keith Bowers made commissioners aware of the new piece of jail litigation, which demands more than $20 million in damages, during their June 23 meeting.
Because the claims include an alleged violation of constitutional rights, the case is being heard in Federal Court, and Jeff Ward of Milligan and Coleman in Greeneville has been assigned to represent Washington County and Sheriff Ed Graybeal.
“Although it is unfortunate that Mr. Bever decided to hang himself while in the Washington County Detention Center, the county and the sheriff did not violate any of his constitutional rights and are not at fault for his death,” Ward said. “We intend to vigorously defend the case.”
Ward said he will be filing a response to the complaint soon. “I expect we would file a motion to get the case dismissed,” he said.
According to the statement of facts outlined in the complaint from plaintiff Lisa White, Washington County defendants were aware that Bever had psychological issues, including having previously threatened suicide, when he was examined prior to placing him in his cell at the Detention Center on June 14, 2013.
“Despite this knowledge, upon information and belief, Washington County defendants failed to provide sufficient safeguards to adequately prevent Bever from harming himself,” the complaint states.
On June 16, 2013, Bever was found in his jail cell where he had suffered life-ending injuries as the result of hanging himself by a bed sheet and/or pants. Bever was resuscitated and taken to the Johnson City Medical Center Emergency Department where he died the next day.
The complaint indicates each individually named defendant is sued in his or her individual capacities as officers and/or private agents of Washington County for allegedly demonstrating deliberate indifference to the serious medical needs of Bever, in violation of his rights under the eighth and 14th amendments of the U.S. Constitution.
Count I of the complaint refers to the alleged violation of the plaintiff’s federal rights by defendants Washington County, Graybeal and John Does. The county is sued because of harm to Bever resulting from the lack of or failure to enforce official policies and customs mandating proper medical treatment and detention of Bever who was known to be a suicide risk and had threatened suicide prior to his incarceration.
The complaint says Graybeal is the final policymaker relative to the use of proper protocol concerning known suicidal inmates in the jail, and accuses him of being deliberately indifferent to the training of jail staff relative to the proper detaining of such known inmates.
The John Does are the deputies and/or corrections officers who were in a position to observe Bever during his incarceration. The complaint does not list officers’ names.
Count II alleges violations by Southern Health Partners Inc. and John Does who had a duty to provide adequate medical assistance to Bever. The John Does are the employees and agents of Southern Health Partners Inc.
The plaintiff submits the defendants acted with negligence, and that it was foreseeable to defendants, or, in the exercise of reasonable care, should have been foreseeable to defendants, that failing to provide adequate custody, care and treatment for Bever would result in his death.
Count III addresses state law claims and avers Washington County’s immunity from suit has been removed by the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act including, but not limited to, TCA 29-20-205, which states, “Immunity from suit of all governmental entities is removed for injury proximately caused by the negligent act or omission of any employee within the scope of his employment. No exceptions to the removal of immunity apply under the facts of this case.”
The complaint states as a direct and proximate result of the acts and/or omissions of defendants, Bever died, and plaintiff, as mother, is emotionally injured for life.
White seeks judgment in the amount of $10 million, plus punitive damages in the amount of $10 million, and the maximum award allowed under applicable law for claims, plus costs, interest and attorney’s fees. In addition, she demands a jury to try her claims.