The former Montrose County Jail administrator who is named in a wrongful death suit late last week says a judgment in his favor should be granted.
Alan Miller, since retired from the jail, followed up an earlier motion to have the estate of Dillon Blodgett’s suit dismissed, with a motion for summary judgment May 10.
Blodgett died Jan. 23, 2016, three days after he was found hanging from toweling in his jail cell.
His estate and mother sued several people, including the previous sheriff and undersheriff, who were ultimately dismissed from the action with others.
Personal capacity claims against Miller remain, along with claims against the entities contracted to provide health care services at the jail, three counselors, and a nurse.
These remaining parties deny the claims against them and have called for dismissal.
Miller’s most recent motion contends no genuine issues of material fact remain in the suit as it pertains to him; that Miller retains immunity; that there is no evidence he violated Blodgett’s due process rights; no evidence that he was indifferent to Blodgett’s medical needs, or of personal knowledge of suicide risk, beyond having replied to emails from the late inmate’s public defender.
Further, there is no evidence that Miller held Blodgett in “solitary confinement,” as Blodgett’s estate alleges. Nor are there clearly established rights under the 14th Amendment to additional screening protocols and treatment beyond what Blodgett received at the jail.
The plaintiffs allege Blodgett had been kept in solitary despite demonstrating significant mental health problems, and a history of suicide attempts.
They allege also that Blodgett repeatedly requested and obtained counseling services while in jail, but a risk assessment determined suicide precautions weren’t necessary.
Blodgett received improper evaluations and care, despite his attempts to receive help, the plaintiffs argue.
Miller, through his attorney’s May 10 filing, acknowledged Blodgett’s death as a “tragic loss,” but said he is not liable for violating the deceased’s 14th Amendment due process rights and that he has qualified immunity the plaintiffs cannot overcome.
“There is no evidence that Cmdr. Miller had any personal contact with Mr. Blodgett. Commander Miller had no knowledge that Mr. Blodgett presented a substantial risk of suicide. Mr. Blodgett denied present suicidal ideation during his intake screening when he was booked into the jail,” attorney Andrew McLetchie wrote.
“After he was booked, the health care professionals who saw and evaluated Mr. Blodgett — professionals over whom Cmdr. Miller had no supervisory responsibilities or control — never recommended placing Mr. Blodgett on suicide watch.”
When Miller received email from Blodgett’s public defender in November 2015 concerning health care, Miller “promptly” responded and these requests were met by the employees of the contracted medical care provider, McLetchie said.
The attorney goes on to argue that, as of Blodgett’s date of death, there was no established 14th Amendment right to suicide screening or prevention protocols. Further, the right to be “free from” solitary confinement also is not clearly established — and Blodgett was not so held, McLetchie wrote.
The maximum security cell in which Blodgett was housed was appropriate given his criminal history and and behavioral problems at other jails, the filing says. He required “close custody,” but even inmates in maximum security can interact with other inmates during recreational time and meals, as well as with jail staff.
Because there is no evidence Miller violated a clearly established 14th Amendment right, the former jail administrator “is entitled” to summary judgment, his attorney said.
Per the filing, the plaintiffs cannot show evidence Miller had direct, personal contact with Blodgett, or that he was personally involved in Blodgett’s treatment and evaluation. Nor is there evidence Miller directed or supervised the delivery of such care, or even evidence he was made aware of providers’ notes.
Even if he had been, “the notes consistently concluded that suicide precautions were not necessary,” McLetchie said, going on to argue Miller was not a “gatekeeper” of health care services, and there is no evidence he delayed or refused such care.
“In fact, the opposite is true. Mr. Blodgett received medical and mental health care every time he requested it,” the motion for summary judgment states.
Miller reacted reasonably to information of which he was made aware, McLetchie concluded.
“As tragic as this case is, it does not mean Cmdr. Miller, through his minimal conduct, violated Mr. Blodgett’s 14th Amendment rights.”