Updated: 4:27 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019
Attorneys representing the estate of a man who was found hanging in his cell at the Cuyahoga County Jail last year filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the county Thursday.
The suit was filed on behalf of the estate of Gregory Fox, who died after he was found unconscious in his jail cell on Aug. 28, 2018, in an apparent suicide attempt. At the time, the jail was under a “red zone” lockdown that isolated inmates for as long as 23 hours at a time in an attempt to make the understaffed facility more manageable for corrections officers.
The suit argues jail employees “failed to provide Gregory with necessary mental health care and medication and failed to take necessary steps to prevent his suicide.”
Fox had previously been an inmate at the jail, from June to early August 2018, and at that time the jail was aware of his mental health condition and even placed on suicide watch, according to his sister, who asked to be identified only as “Wendy.”
“He was actively seeking counseling and medications,” she said. “Cuyahoga County had the job of caring for Greg while he was in the jail.”
But on his return to the jail later in August, no mental health accommodations or treatment were made available, the lawsuit said.
“In August of 2018, Greg came into the jail suicidal,” said lawyer Sarah Gelsomino, with the firm Friedman and Gilbert. It is still unclear how or whether Fox received proper mental health screening at intake, but Fox, according to Gelsomino, told the staff he was suicidal.
Fox’s estate is seeking damages and injunctive relief for what Gelsomino said was a preventable death. It alleges conditions at the jail violate the Fourth, Eighth and Fourteenth smendments to the U.S. Constitution, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act.
The lawsuit also says jail employees’ actions violated Fox’s Fifth Amendment rights and argues Cuyahoga County has failed to correct issues at the facility in a timely or effective manner, despite multiple complaints and reports. The lawsuit argues the actions of county and jail employees “were taken jointly, in concert, and with shared intent.”
Officers refused to provide Fox with medication or medical attention despite multiple requests, Gelsomino said.
“Evidence in this case is staggering,” she said, including testimony from other detainees who saw and heard Fox begging for help and medication. “The county absolutely was on notice that Greg was vulnerable.... They completely failed Greg,” she said.
The suit also says rates of suicide and suicide attempts are at emergency levels in the facility. It references eight other inmate deaths since 2018, and says 55 other inmates have attempted suicide in that time. According to the suit, after each death, housing unit logs were confiscated and replaced with new logs.
Reports of inmate mistreatment and poor sanitary conditions surfaced during a probe of the jail by the U.S. Marshals Service last year. The report detailed, among other problems, excessive use of force and “inhumane” conditions, such as limited access to medical care and food being withheld as punishment.
Since the release of the marshals’ report, prosecutors have charged the former jail director, former warden and several corrections officers with a laundry list of felonies and misdemeanors. Friedman and Gilbert, along with the Cleveland NAACP and law firm Porter Wright Morris & Arthur, filed a class action lawsuit against the county on behalf of jail inmates a year ago.