Jail shower 'seemingly designed' for suicide, lawsuit claims

AP News
Posted: Feb 22, 2017 4:14 PM

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — An inmate who hanged himself last March at the new jail in New Orleans had been denied needed mental health treatment and was left alone in a shower "seemingly designed to facilitate suicides," his sister claims in a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday.

Cleveland Tumblin, 61, died days after his arrest on assault and firearms charges, and less than six months after the city's new $150 million jail opened. Sheriff Marlin Gusman is the elected official tasked with running the jail. He had hailed the new facility as key to ending myriad problems, including inmate violence and suicide, which led to a court order for reform.

But Tumblin's was the first of two suicides in the new lockup. In October, authorities said a 15-year-old murder suspect used a mattress cover to hang himself.

Gaynell Tumblin's lawsuit renews focus on flaws in the new jail that were criticized last year by court-approved experts.

Among those reported flaws: The shower could be locked from the inside, and an exposed pipe could be used by an inmate to hang himself.

"Suffering from multiple psychological disorders and being a known suicide risk, yet having received no mental health care, and thereafter being placed in a shower stall seemingly designed to facilitate suicides, Mr. Tumblin engaged in the entirely predictable and preventable act of hanging himself," the lawsuit says.

The court-approved experts are monitoring efforts to comply with jail reforms that Gusman agreed to in settling a 2012 federal lawsuit.

Tumblin's death led to increased legal pressures on Gusman as inmate advocates and Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration pushed for the court to place the jail in receivership, effectively relieving Gusman of his chief responsibility. Gusman avoided that move by agreeing to cede broad authority over the jail to a "compliance director." With a federal judge's approval, former Maryland corrections official Gary Maynard took the job last fall.

In emails, the Sheriff's Office and health care contractor Correct Care Solutions declined to comment on the litigation.

In March, a jail news release on Tumblin's hanging said he had been assigned to general housing at the jail after a medical and mental health evaluation.

Gaynell Tumblin's lawsuit says a jail nurse was made aware of Tumblin's history of mental illness, including bipolar disorder, his depression over a recent "significant loss," and that he had been taking medication for his disorder. It also says he had asked to see a mental health professional while jailed.

Gaynell Tumblin, other surviving siblings and family members and inmate advocates held a news conference outside the courthouse soon after the lawsuit was filed. They said Maynard, who is not named as a defendant and who took over months after Tumblin's death, has listened to their concerns.

However, Norris Henderson, an inmate reform advocate, said he's concerned that Maynard and others want to address the problems that led to Tumblin's death by building new jail space for inmates with mental health problems.

"Jail is no place for people like Cleveland Tumblin," Henderson said.

The lawsuit, filed by attorney Will Claiborne, also says jail officials are withholding records about Tumblin's incarceration, in violation of the state open records law.

Tumblin's death last March came days before a long-awaited settlement stemming from a 2011 suicide at the old jail facility. The brother and sister of 48-year-old William Goetzee, who choked himself to death with toilet paper at the jail, reached a $1.75 million settlement with Gusman and jail officials.