Content advisory: This article discusses suicide, suicide attempts and mental illness. Those struggling with their mental health or thoughts of suicide can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or call the Summit County ADM Board 24/7 hotline at 330-434-9144.
The mother of a Stow man who died by suicide in the Summit County Jail and his former wife are suing the county and the jail’s mental health provider, saying the man’s death was preventable after he begged for mental health treatment for months but was ignored.
According to the lawsuit filed Sept. 2 in the US District Court for the Northern District of Ohio Eastern Division in Cleveland, Patrick Butcher died by suicide in the jail on Oct. 12, 2020, “because the Jail’s corrections and mental-health staff were deliberately indifferent to Patrick’s serious psychiatric needs, consistent with Summit County’s failure to properly train staff in suicide prevention.”
The lawsuit was filed by Terry DeVos of Stow — Butcher’s mother and the administrator of his estate — and Shelby Butcher of Lorain, Butcher’s former wife and mother of their child. It names as defendants Summit County; Summit Psychological Associates, which provides mental health services at the county jail; two corrections officers; and an employee and an intern for inmate services provider Summit Psychological Associates.
Attorneys are not listed in federal court records for the defendants. Greta Johnson, the county’s director of communications, declined to comment on the suit, citing the ongoing litigation.
Pending legal action over Butcher’s death was discussed June 6 during a Summit County Council rules committee meeting. The county in June approved paying $75,000 to liability insurer Tokio Marine Houston Casualty Company for legal representation costs and services to investigate the expected litigation.
“We’ve received a demand of $4 million from the estate of the deceased,” Deb Matz, the county’s director of law and risk management, said during the meeting. “Obviously we’re disinclined to answer that demand with anything even close to that kind of money for settlement.”
Patrick Butcher struggled with his mental health before entering Summit County Jail
According to the lawsuit, Butcher began to struggle with his mental health after his wife gave birth to stillborn twins in January 2018. In November 2018, Butcher’s wife gave birth to a healthy baby girl, but Butcher still struggled emotionally, with auditory hallucinations that led him to bang his head against the wall, according to the lawsuit.
On May 24, 2019, Butcher was hospitalized for a suicide attempt and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from the twins’ death. The lawsuit states Butcher began to self-medicate by abusing benzodiazepines and alcohol, and his wife filed for divorce in March 2020.
Butcher was booked into the Summit County Jail that month and again in June 2020, The suit says his mother and estranged wife believed his incarceration would help to protect him from himself, anticipating that the jail would “help him detox and receive consistent treatment for his mental-health issues, including consistently administering his prescribed medications.”
The lawsuit outlines Butcher’s struggles in the jail, including multiple requests to staff for his medication and other mental health treatment.
In a letter to his mother on June 18, 2020, Butcher described his increasingly suicidal thoughts and how easy it would be to act on them in his surroundings, according to the suit. “I’m more depressed than I’ve ever been,” he wrote, “and I can’t keep trudging along and alone. I can’t ask for help here either because their answer is to put you in a ‘turtle suit ‘ and take all your stuff away.”
The lawsuit says Butcher was no longer allowed to take a medication used to treat bipolar depression after a nurse said he spit it into a cup; his family contends he was not refusing the medication but had gagged while trying to take it and was denied the chance to try again.
In subsequent requests to jail staff, Butcher warned that the discontinuation of the medication “could lead to my death” and wrote “my brain is not in a good place.”
The lawsuit says Butcher didn’t see a psychiatrist or physician from July 17 to Aug. 27. He started a new medication that wasn’t sufficient to control his symptoms and requested to see a physician at least seven times between Sept. 1 and Oct. 10
On Sept. 30, 2020, Butcher, who had no prior criminal history, entered into a plea agreement, and his sentencing for charges including drug possession, violating a protection order and burglary was set for three weeks later.
According to the suit, Butcher hoped to be sentenced to a drug-rehabilitation program at Summit County’s community-based correctional facility but feared he would be sentenced to prison.
Butcher died by suicide in his cell
On Oct. 11, 2020, Butcher told several deputies he was suicidal and didn’t want to return to his cell, saying he was afraid his cellmate would beat him up after he “snitched” on the cellmate’s fellow gang member. He wasn’t placed on suicide watch, however, according to the lawsuit.
The suit states that Butcher returned to his cell and was attacked by his cellmate. Both Butcher and the cellmate said Butcher didn’t fight back, but deputies said he did.
Butcher did not meet with a psychiatrist after the incident — instead he was seen by a Summit Psychological Associates Intern.
Butcher was found dead in his cell on Oct. 12, the same day as a hearing in which he was sentenced to five days in solitary confinement as a result of the fight.
In a note found in his cell, Butcher wrote, “I also have plead with mental health to see me because my Bipolar is so bad but they haven’t helped me out.”
The plaintiffs list a host of risk factors for suicide affecting Butcher — including previous attempts, self-harm, mental illness, financial problems, his divorce (finalized Oct. 7) and the recent death of his grandmother.
The lawsuit accuses the county of failure to implement mental health-related recommendations from the Summit County Jail Advisory Commission or provide deputies with suicide prevention training.
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The suit also says Summit Psychological Associates failed to provide easily accessible, timely care to Butcher, with the agency understaffing psychiatrists at the jail.
The lawsuit includes claims of wrongful death, negligence and violations of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the US Constitution. The plaintiffs are seeking a trial by jury and compensatory damages to Butcher’s estate.
County settles attempted suicide case in Summit County Jail
In a separate case, Summit County officials are paying $135,000 to a Tallmadge woman and her mother as a settlement after they filed a lawsuit saying the woman’s attempted suicide in the Summit County Jail went ignored by deputies and was later covered up.
The lawsuit was filed in the same federal court in Cleveland in April 2020 against Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro, former Summit County Sheriff Steve Barry (who was sheriff at the time of the incident) and three Summit County sheriff’s deputies: Alycia Hawkins, Debra Weiland and Teresa Stark.
“Tea [county’s] insurance company at this point is considering this a cost of defense,” Deb Matz, director of the the county’s Department of Law and Risk Management, told County Council members in August. “So if we settle it now, it will be indeed significantly less expensive than the cost of defending the case, when you don’t know what the outcome could possibly be.”
Johnson, the county’s communications director, declined to comment on the lawsuit or settlement.
According to the lawsuit, the woman was booked into the Summit County Jail as a pretrial detainee on April 19, 2018, and was placed on suicide watch.
The lawsuit states that sheriff’s deputies “failed to adhere to proper protocol by neglecting to timely check on the welfare state of an inmate on mental suicide status,” calling it “indifference to a serious medical need.”
The lawsuit states that on April 27, 2018, the woman attempted suicide but was discovered by deputies, who immediately concealed evidence of the attempt when they came to her aid and told a nurse that she might be faking a seizure.
The suit states that medical and jail supervisory staff repeatedly asked the deputies if the woman had attempted suicide, but they said she hadn’t. When emergency medical services arrived to treat her, they treated the woman for a seizure.
“Because of the Deputies’ conspiring to conceal, and then concealing the fact of the suicide attempt, [the woman] did not receive proper medical treatment until she arrived in the emergency room where the hospital staff was notified that [the woman] did make a suicide attempt and was not suffering from a seizure,” the lawsuit states.