The parents of a Walnut Creek man who committed suicide in a Contra Costa County jail in Martinez in 2005 can go ahead with a lawsuit against a county employee, a federal appeals court in San Francisco ruled today.
Robert Clouthier, 29, hanged himself with a knotted sheet in a general population cell in the county’s Martinez Detention Facility on Aug. 1, 2005, after having been moved from an observation cell.
He was arrested on July 26, 2005, on suspicion of battery and vandalism when his parents called police after he had an argument with his father at the family’s home, destroyed a china cabinet and cut himself while jumping through a plate glass window.
His parents, Gregory and Ann Clouthier, sued the county, two sheriff’s deputies and a county mental health specialist the following year.
A federal trial judge dismissed the case against all defendants, but a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the lawsuit against the mental health specialist, Margaret Blush.
The court said the parents can seek to argue at a trial that Blush acted with “deliberate indifference” under legal standards when she told deputies on July 27 that Clouthier could be taken off an observation log that required him to be checked every 15 minutes.
Clouthier was kept in the jail’s observation room until he was moved to a general cell on Aug. 1, but was no longer checked every 15 minutes.
The appeals court upheld the dismissal of the county and two deputies as defendants, saying there was no evidence their actions reached a level of deliberate indifference to Clouthier’s health.
The ruling does not decide whether Blush is liable, but only that the parents can have a not-yet-scheduled trial on their claim against her.
Clouthier was placed on the observation log by another county mental health specialist who had told Blush on July 27 that he was suicidal, according to the court. Blush later testified that when she removed his name from the log on the evening of July 27, she believed the risk of suicide had decreased, although she was uncertain as to whether it had disappeared.