The lawsuit alleges Geo Group, one of the largest private prison managers in the world. companies, violated the due process rights of a 21-year-old inmate under the 14th Amendment.
The Geo Group Inc (NYSE:GEO)
— Stephanie Sherman, Texas-California litigator
DEL RIO, TEXAS, USA, July 14, 2022 /EINPresswire.com/ — Attorneys at the law firm Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman have filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of Jennifer Guadarrama, a mother who alleges numerous failures by prison giant Geo Group, Inc. led to the preventable suicide of its son at Val Verde Correctional Center in Del Rio, Texas. Geo Group is one of the world’s leading private prison management companies with annual revenues exceeding $2 billion.
Attorneys Stephanie B. Sherman and Monique Alarcon filed the complaint (Case #2:22-cv-00032) in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, Del Rio Division. The lawsuit alleges negligence and civil rights abuses resulted in the death of Keegan Killin, who was in solitary confinement despite numerous documented mental health issues. According to the allegations, the defendants knowingly ignored the high risk of suicide among inmates and helped facilitate the needless death of Keegan Killin.
The lawsuit seeks punitive damages and names the following persons as defendants:
• The Geo Group, Inc. of Boca Raton, Florida – The owner and operator of the Val Verde Correctional Facility. Designated prison health and mental health care provider.
• Val Verde County, Texas – Designated and delegated geographic group to provide health care and mental health care at Val Verde Correctional Facility.
• Christopher Martinez, hired by Geo Group as director of the Val Verde prison establishment
• Antonio Cadena, Jr. MD – Under contract with Geo Group as Medical Director at Val Verde Correctional Facility
• Jether C. Farino, MD – Under contract with Geo Group as a psychiatrist at Val Verde Correctional Facility
• Jessica Beachkofsky, MD – Under contract with Geo Group as a psychiatrist at Val Verde Correctional Facility
• Magdalene D. Garza, MD – Under contract with Geo Group as a psychiatrist at Val Verde Correctional Facility
Keegan G. Killin was 21 when he died alone on March 13, 2021. Killin had been remanded to Val Verde Correctional Facility for 15 months without conviction. He was not a serial criminal or a violent offender. His mother says Killin had a documented history of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and had previously attempted suicide, but was placed in solitary confinement without proper justification, supervision or treatment.
Guadarrama’s lawyers claim that despite Killin’s documented mental health issues and the abundance of medical studies pointing to the high risk of suicide among inmates in solitary confinement, the defendants allegedly gave or allowed Killin to have:
• Psychotropic drugs known to cause suicide;
• Tools for committing suicide, including restraints, bunk beds, razors and shoelaces;
• Access to homemade wine.
“Geo Group and the other defendants knew that Keegan had a history of PTSD and had previously attempted suicide,” plaintiff’s attorney Stephanie Sherman said. “They knew he was barely sleeping. They knew he had serious mental health issues. They knew that he had taken and stopped several medications. And yet, they chose to lock him up on his own knowing that he would only be observed for a few seconds every 30 minutes. Think how much you would have to care about a person to know that they are incredibly vulnerable to self-harm and your response is to isolate them and give them what they need to kill themselves. The lack of humanity in this case is appalling.
Lawyers for the plaintiff say the defendants violated Keegan Killin’s 14th Amendment due process rights by acting with “a willful and conscious disregard” for his health and safety. The complaint also includes allegations of negligence against GEO Group, Dr. Cadena and the accused psychiatrists.
While at Val Verde Correctional Facility, Geo Group psychiatrists put Killin on several different psychiatric drugs, including Prozosin, Zoloft and Trazodone, according to the complaint. In October 2020, Dr. Garza went off Killin’s psychiatric medication with no plan or treatment bridge following the sudden cessation. For five months prior to his suicide, Killin was not taking any psychiatric medication for his mental illnesses until days before his death and was not receiving any psychotherapy, which is the first line of treatment for PTSD. He was assigned to solitary confinement during this same period.
According to the lawsuit, Geo Group and director Christopher Martinez assigned Killin to solitary confinement on demand for no reason or justification other than Killin’s preference to be in solitary confinement. Lawyers say this is not common practice in a prison and violates prison standards. Killin’s history of handling psychiatric medications in prison was never reviewed, approved, reported or questioned during Killin’s transition to solitary confinement, according to the complaint.
The lawsuit alleges that Killin was placed in solitary confinement without special supervision, psychotherapy, suicide prevention measures or restrictions on what items he could and could not have in his cell.
On March 2, 2021, Killin started taking amitriptyline (a tricyclic antidepressant) after Dr. Beachkofsky prescribed the drug. He had never taken amitriptyline before, which carries a “black box warning” from the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regarding its use in adolescents and young adults under the age of 24, because it can increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and behavior. Killin took amitriptyline every night for 10 days before committing suicide in solitary confinement.
The allegations against the defendants include:
• Failure to monitor Killin’s severe mental illness.
• Inability to recognize and/or diagnose severe mental illness and Killin’s symptoms as strong indicators of immediate danger and risk of death by suicide.
• Failure to act and take steps to prevent Killin from committing suicide. Killin, who was already at high risk of suicide, was placed in solitary confinement without psychiatric medication, special monitoring, psychotherapy, suicide prevention measures, or restrictions on items he may have in his cell for a period of time. that they were in their custody.
• Failure to supervise Killin, a young adult, who was given a new prescription for antidepressants.
• Failure to recognize severe mental illness and Killin’s symptoms as strong indicators of immediate danger and risk of death by suicide.
• Failure to treat Killin’s severe mental illness according to current protocols and evidence-based treatments.
• Failure to adequately train employees and health care workers to detect and diagnose serious mental illnesses or illnesses.
• Failure to supervise staff providing mental health care and services to prisoners.
• Failure to apply behavioral and cellular checks required for mental health screening.
• Failure to report the dangers present in Killin’s cell given his mental state.
• Failure to provide the least restrictive means available to Keegan in accordance with Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) and suicide studies.
• Non-compliance with the rules against smuggling and/or alcohol.
Solitary confinement is a high risk factor for suicide. Studies have shown that suicide is one of the leading causes of death among prisoners, accounting for around 30% of all deaths in prison. About 90% of prison suicides result from hanging or self-strangulation. In the United States, prisoners are 33 times more likely to die by hanging than people who die by suicide in the general population.
Lawyers say suicide studies from the 1960s were known to prison officials and medical staff but were deliberately ignored.
Learn more on our blog.
About Attorney Stephanie B. Sherman
Stephanie Sherman is an award-winning Texas litigator and shareholder of Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman. With her unique background in psychology and law, Sherman understands the complexity of trauma and prides herself on being a champion for the nation’s most vulnerable. His relentless advocacy in high-stakes personal injury and wrongful death litigation has resulted in compensation for clients worth hundreds of millions.
About Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman
Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman is a national law firm that handles high-stakes litigation against large corporations and other entities that cause serious harm. As one of the nation’s leading civil plaintiff law firms, Baum Hedlund has won some of the largest verdicts and settlements for personal injury and wrongful death cases in recent history. Law360 honored the firm with the California Powerhouse Award and Product Liability Practice Group of the Year. ALM and The National Law Journal have twice awarded Baum Hedlund’s attorneys the Elite Trial Lawyers Trial Team of the Year award and inducted them into the Verdicts Hall of Fame. Across all practice areas, the firm has won over $4 billion in verdicts and settlements.
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