Local news shrugged when Ryan Hall hung himself with a bed sheet from his jail cell on April 6, 2015. The Orange County District Attorney’s (OCDA) office cleared OC sheriff deputies and other Men’s Central Jail staff later that year of any gross negligence in the suicide, but only the Weekly reported it. Vilma Germaine-McIver, Hall’s mother, isn’t content with the investigation’s findings. Lawyers with Irvine-based Layfield & Barrett filed a $15 million federal lawsuit against county employees on her behalf last week, claiming acted they with “deliberate indifference to his physical safety and to his very life.”
The complaint names OC Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, Orange County Health Care Agency Director Mark Refowitz and Deputy Director Kim Pearson along with unnamed sheriff deputies and jail staff. It doesn’t take issue with the sequence of events following Hall’s arrest for nearly stabbing a woman to death in November 2014, but rather what should’ve been done. In the OCDA report, it’s noted that a psychological screening and review of Hall’s medical history at Men’s Central Jail in Santa Ana determined him to be gravely disabled and a danger to others (he suffered from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder), but staffers didn’t send him to a single-person cell for mentally ill inmates in need of care.
In early December that year, Hall got a hold of a razor blade from a fellow inmate and sliced himself in a failed suicide attempt. While under medical care, Hall reached for a deputy’s gun screaming “Shoot me, I want to die!” the following day. Deputies finally put Hall in a single-person cell after the incident. No suicide attempts followed for months until the morning of April 6, when he got permission to leave his cell briefly for the day room. When Hall returned to his cell, he wrapped a bed sheet around his neck and hung himself. His dangling body was discovered by a fellow inmate, not a deputy. By the time staffers responded, Hall had no pulse.
The lawsuit points to a 2008 on-site investigation of the Orange County jail system by the U.S. Department of Justice to bolster its arguments. The DOJ provided Hutchens with its findings in March 2014, including recommendations to have staff make rounds for inmates under suicidal observation every half-hour and even more frequently for the most actively suicidal. It also suggested improvement for medical treatment of mentally ill inmates. The lawsuit also cites a recently released OC Grand Jury report, “Our Brothers’ Keeper: A Look at the Care and Treatment of Mentally Ill Inmates in Orange County Jails,” that criticizes the use of safety cells by Correctional Health Services as no substitute for mental health treatment.
Building on the two reports, the lawsuit alleges that Hall didn’t receive adequate mental health treatment and monitoring throughout his jailing. “Hall suffered preventable serious injuries and harm by committing suicide,” the complaint reads. Germaine-McIver had to fly from New York to OC after he hung himself and made the difficult decision of taking him off life support.
The county has yet to respond.