California lawmakers OK $1 million settlement in girl's jail suicide

Reuters News
Posted: Nov 20, 2015 6:59 PM

(Reuters) - Southern California lawmakers have agreed to pay $1 million to the family of a 16-year-old girl who committed suicide by hanging herself in a juvenile hall facility in 2013, officials said on Friday.

The settlement follows several controversial in-custody deaths that have fueled protests across the country over systemic racism and police violence under the banner of Black Lives Matter over the past year.

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to approve the settlement during a closed session on Tuesday to discuss the lawsuit filed by the family of Rosemary Summers, board spokeswoman Michele Clock said.

"Providing a safe environment for youth in custody is the highest priority for the Probation Department and their staff," Clock said in a statement.

"Accordingly, following Rosemary's death, Probation identified and made, and continues to make, safety improvements in order to prevent a tragedy like this from ever occurring again," she said.

Summers was taken to the Girls Rehabilitation Facility in San Diego in July 2013 for violating probation while attending a rally for Trayvon Martin, the black Florida teen whose death at the hands of a volunteer night watchman sparked protests around the United States.

Summers had attempted suicide numerous times by the age of 14, court records show, and during her detention she told jail staff she wanted to harm herself.

Her family's attorneys said jailers failed to follow department policies regarding suicide prevention, and she was found hanging in her cell on Sept. 23, 2013.

Family lawyer Gerald Singleton said Summers should never have been in juvenile hall in the first place. He said her mother remains distraught.

"She was having difficulty because she felt like it was putting a monetary value on her daughter's life," Singleton said. "Unfortunately, she just broke down. She blames herself."

He added that the family was encouraged by changes the jail was making to prevent something similar from happening again.

Clock said Summers' suicide was the first by a juvenile in the county's custody in more than three decades.

(Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Leslie Adler)