Two families sue Armstrong County over jail suicides

Complaints claim jail staff negligence

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Family members of two former Armstrong County Jail inmates who committed suicide there in 2011 and 2012 sued the county Friday, alleging that indifference to psychological conditions and the placement of blinds over windows led to the deaths.

Tyler Roberto Emigh of Manorville, who had faced burglary, receiving stolen property and theft charges, was 21 at the time of his death almost two years ago.

According to the complaint, jail staff knew he was a heroin addict with mental illness and was at risk to commit suicide. He was placed alone in a cell in the Special Housing Unit, where, according to the complaint, a blind over the window prevented staff from continuously monitoring him.

He hanged himself and died two days later, according to the complaint by attorneys Gregory Swank and Charles Pascal.

The same attorneys filed a separate complaint on behalf of the estate of Tyler Lee Watterson of Kittanning, who was 24 at the time of his November death.

Watterson had been convicted of simple assault and attempted robbery. Mr. Pascal described him as "just a troubled kid. He never committed any incredibly serious crimes."

Watterson told jail staff that he wanted mental health services and threatened suicide, according to the complaint.

Jail staff placed him alone in a Special Housing Unit cell equipped with blinds, according to the complaint, and he hanged himself.

"The guards could not see into the cells," Mr. Pascal said. "I think the blinds contributed to it, but I believe that jails in general have to have more understanding of the mental issues and the drug dependency issues of inmates who come in, and they have to be more vigilant in terms of how they treat these people."

Both complaints name as defendants the county, warden David Hogue, Armstrong-Indiana Mental Health-Mental Retardation, the Family Counseling Center of Armstrong County and jail staff members.

They allege violations of the inmates' rights, including the right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, and each complaint demands more than $150,000 in damages.

The county solicitor, county commissioners and warden could not be reached for comment Friday.

region

Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1542 or on Twitter @richelord.


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