Family Sues Cuyahoga County Over Mentally Ill Man's 2018 Suicide In Jail

photo of kiekisz family and attorney
Paul Cristallo, attorney for the Kiekisz family, stands with relatives of Brenden Kiekisz during a Dec. 21 press conference announcing the lawsuit. [Matthew Richmond / ideastream]

The family of Brenden Kiekisz, a 27-year-old Northeast Ohio man who killed himself in the Cuyahoga County jail in late 2018, is suing the county.

The family’s attorney, Paul Cristallo, said Monday that Kiekisz told staff upon arriving at the jail that he had tried to kill himself two days earlier and suffered from bipolar disorder.

“He wasn’t sent to a mental health nurse, he wasn’t sent to see a psychiatrist and he wasn’t sent to see a psychologist,” Cristallo said during a Monday morning press conference with Kiekisz’s family. “Instead, he was sent into the general population and given no medical or other health assistance. We shouldn’t be surprised this is what happened.”

Kiekisz’s death came amid a flood of reports of deplorable conditions inside the county jail. A U.S. Marshals report released a month before his death described conditions in the jail as “inhumane” and eventually led to a complete overhaul of leadership and policy changes.

Kiekisz was one of eight inmates to die at the county jail in the last six months of 2018. According to the Marshals report, there were 55 attempted suicides in the jail over the course of 12 months.

“Brenden suffered for two days, at least, without treatment, help, counseling, and he was never given his medications, which he desperately needed,” Cristallo said.

In the lawsuit, which was not available on the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas website as of Monday afternoon, Cristallo points to issues with the “floor card” system used at the jail.

Inmates, upon arrival at the jail, are assessed for mental health or other concerns.

“If your floor card has a large, red medical stamp on it, that means that you have been assessed and you have been cleared by mental and physical health,” Cristallo said.

That stamp means you’re cleared for placement in the jail’s general population – which Kiekisz’s card had. The lawsuit is based on Kiekisz receiving that clearance despite what he reported to jail staff about his mental state.

“Not only did somebody who was presenting in a state of a mental health crisis, who was expressly indicating that he had been suicidal, he had attempted it just two days ago, not only did he not get any help, but someone affirmatively took the step to indicate he had, in fact, been assessed,” Cristallo said.

The suit, Cristallo said, is meant to help prevent something like that from ever happening again.

Since Kiekisz’s death, the county has taken a number of steps to overhaul the jail. The warden, and jail administrator have been replaced. The county hired MetroHealth System to provide medical care at the jail. And County Executive Armond Budish announced plans for a diversion center to keep people struggling with mental health issues or drug addiction out of the jail and get them proper care and help instead, which is scheduled to open early next year.

 

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