By ERIC MARK | CITIZEN’S VOICE STAFF WRITER
Jul 9, 2023
Improper training and procedures led to the deaths by suicide of three inmates at Luzerne County Correctional Facility two years ago, Wilkes-Barre law firm Dyller & Solomon alleges in asuit filed in county court.
The county hired a consultant to suggest procedural changes at the jail after four inmate deaths in 2017-18, but then ignored most of the consultant’s recommendations, the suit states.
Failure to follow those recommendations contributed to the suicide deaths of Ryan C. Bush, Angel Ann Dickson and Amanda Yurksha while they were going through drug detoxification atthe jail in 2021, the suit alleges.
The suit demands a jury trial and unspecified damages. It lists as plaintiffs family members of Bush, Dickson and Yurksha. Defendants are Luzerne County, former correctional servicesdivision head Mark Rockovich, jail health care provider Wellpath LLC, nurse Christopher Gale,social worker Elizabeth Anselm and correctional officers Joseph Delaney, Melissa Yankovich,Harry Reese and Heather Wilson.
Dyller & Solomon filed a notice of impending litigation in May 2022. It took more than a year to file the suit since the firm had trouble obtaining needed records from the county, attorneyTheron Solomon said Sunday.
The 61-page suit describes the deaths by hanging of the three inmates and the allegedly inadequate measures jail and Wellpath personnel took to ensure their safety.
All three were at high risk of suicide based on substance use disorder, mental health and previous attempts at self-harm, the suit alleges.
Despite that, the inmates were not placed on “enhanced observation” status and were not checked on every 30 minutes, as recommended by the consultant the county hired in 2018, thesuit states.
Inmates going through detoxification were improperly placed in general population, in cells which contained “tie-off points” that could be used for hanging, the suit alleges.
Even after the consultant’s 2018 report recommended retrofitting cells to reduce suicide risk, “the county did nothing and continued to utilize cells that were not suicide resistant for suicidalinmates,” the suit states.
The county and Wellpath failed to provide Medically Assisted Treatment, such as methadone, buprenorphine and/or naltrexone for opiate dependency and took a “laissez-faire approach tosuicide prevention practices,” the suit alleges.
According to the suit:
Bush tried to kill himself at least twice prior to his incarceration at LCCF on March 11, 2021. During his screening, Bush reported an extensive history of alcohol and substance use. He said he wasin withdrawal and experiencing delirium tremens.
Bush was placed in a protocol for inmates in withdrawal. He refused to answer questions, which should have triggered mandated clinical intervention, according to county and Wellpathguidelines. However, no intervention was provided, the suit states.
On March 22, 2021, Bush made suicidal references to another inmate and in a telephone call to his family. At about 9 p.m. that night, he hanged himself with a shoelace, “an obvious implementof suicide” he purchased at the jail commissary, the suit states.
Bush died at a local hospital on March 28, 2021.
Dickson was incarcerated on April 12, 2021. During her screening, she said she used methamphetamine one to five days per week for the past six to 12 months. She was placed onwithdrawal protocol.
A few days later, she was released from the jail, but was incarcerated again on May 4. Documents from her intake screening contained conflicting information on whether Dickson hadsubstance use disorder, the suit states.
On either May 6 or May 7, Dickson tried to commit suicide, but was not placed on suicide watch and remained in general population, the suit alleges.
On May 8, Dickson was found hanging in her cell, though medical records conflict as to whethershe used a bed sheet or a pair of pantyhose to hang herself. Dickson died at a hospital on May11, 2021.
Yurksha was incarcerated on Oct. 20, 2021. She had been lodged at the jail multiple times from 2017 to 2019. She was placed on constant suicide watch in July 2018 after it was reported she“had a rope hidden in her cell with a plan to hang herself,” the suit states.
During screening in 2021, Yurksha said she used heroin and fentanyl the previous day and was “detoxing really badly.” Her previous placement on suicide watch in 2018 did not trigger anautomatic alert at intake, as recommended by the county consultant, the suit alleges.
Yurksha was placed on withdrawal protocol and assigned to general population. On Oct. 21, 2021, she was found hanging in her cell, with a sweater or sweatshirt tied around her neck.
Yurksha died at a hospital on Nov. 14, 2021.
Dyller & Solomon will likely continue to represent families of inmates who died by suicide at the county jail, Solomon said.
“We anticipate we are going to fight these cases until Luzerne County fixes the problem,” he said.
County Manager Romilda Crocamo said she could not comment on pending litigation.