The former Montrose County jail administrator who is being sued over the suicide of inmate Dillon Blodgett in 2016 should have to answer questions about what he knew concerning Blodgett’s risks, a recent filing seeking a deposition order contends.
The filing also says it is too soon to grant the administrator, Alan Miller’s, previous motion for summary judgment.
Blodgett was found unresponsive in his cell Jan. 20, 2016; he asphyxiated after using toweling to hang himself.
Blodgett’s mother and estate in a federal suit allege his constitutional rights were violated when he was kept in “solitary confinement” despite demonstrated mental health problems and a history of suicide attempts.
The complaint alleges deliberate indifference to serious medical needs against Miller, Correct Care Solutions LLC, Correctional Healthcare Companies LLC (Correctional Healthcare Management Inc.); three mental health counselors and a nurse.
Miller was dismissed from the suit in his official capacity and in April sought to be dismissed in his individual capacity as well, saying through his attorney he had complied with the law at all times.
His motion should not be granted without more evidence being heard, and a deposition “is necessary to resolve questions of fact,” plaintiffs’ attorney Dan Shaffer said in a June 14 filing.
“Specifically, the plaintiff is concerned that Miller was aware of Mr. Blodgett’ substantial risk of suicide, yet has attested that Nov. 15, 2015, was the last he ever discussed it with anyone,” Shaffer wrote.
The record establishes Miller did know about Blodgett’s history of suicidal behavior, the motion says, alleging Miller either failed to follow through with jail staff and health care contractors, or ignored that information.
The Blodgett estate’s response says Miller knew of, and disregarded, a clear and serious medical need and he is not entitled to immunity because Blodgett’s right to medical care was clearly established.
Further, Miller’s April motion for summary judgment came before discovery (evidence) in the case, leaving the court only with his assertions about what happened.
That’s not enough, Shaffer in the motion argued.
Miller in his motion for summary judgment contended he was not responsible for the actual health care of inmates, which was provided by a private contractor, and that concerns his staff noted would have been reported to that contractor, according to Shaffer’s characterization of those filings.
“The notion that an inmate can be identified to a jail administrator as having a history of suicidal behavior and the jail administrator never hav(ing) another conversation with anyone about that inmate is simply shocking,” the June 14 motion states.
“It is evidence of a willful disregard for the medical condition of an inmate.”
The motion refers to the Nov. 30, 2015 email exchange between Miller and CHC workers and said it received no followup, purportedly because of health care privacy laws.
“What is most troubling is (Miller) has attested he doesn’t believe that he can inquire about the health and welfare of the inmates in his custody and care and that the contractor is charged with evaluating and treating. …. If (Miller) elected not to inquire further, that should be the subject of his sworn testimony at a deposition during the normal course of discovery,” Shaffer wrote.
Although he is not the appropriate person to actually perform treatment, Miller is “the gatekeeper to that treatment,” responsible for granting access, and the court should not drop him from the suit when he knew Blodgett was at risk and did nothing, the attorney also argued.
The plaintiffs are not simply asserting Blodgett had a constitutional right to a proper suicide-risk evaluation and precautions.
“The crux of (the) claim against Miller is that he had personal knowledge of Dillon Blodgett’s substantial risk of suicide and he was indifferent to that risk. This is a deliberate indifference claim,” Shaffer wrote. Miller’s alleged acts and omissions contributed to Blodgett’s “self-directed violence,” he further argued.
Miller’s attorney in April said Blodgett had denied on jail paperwork that he was suicidal. The section of the complaint addressing this was “in bad faith,” and sanctionable, because of material omissions.
An exhibit tendered in support of the complaint “clearly states that suicide precautions were not needed at that time,” and thus, the allegations concerning it are also misleading, as well as sanctionable because of material omission, the defense motion for summary judgment states.
Granting that motion would be premature, the plaintiffs said in the June 14 response. They need time to conduct discovery, including by examining witnesses in a deposition.
Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP.