The widow of a man who killed himself in the Acadia Parish jail last year is suing the Sheriff’s Office in federal court, claiming that correctional officers falsified suicide watch logs, refused to give the man his psychiatric medication and repeatedly walked by his dead body without taking action.
Rocky Chaney was hanging in a detox cell on Aug. 20 for more than two hours, even though the cell was under video surveillance, jail records show. Guards walked by Chaney’s windowed cell 30 times in that span, failing each time either to notice that Chaney was dead or to do anything about it, according to the lawsuit, which was filed by Lafayette attorney David Rutledge. Paramedics were called only after an inmate notified jail staff.
The lawsuit, citing video surveillance, documents each time guards passed with the time of a day.
Chaney’s widow, Olga Chaney, also accuses Sheriff K.P. Gibson and the warden, Laura Benoit, of depriving her late husband of his constitutional rights by operating a substandard jail, mostly in the areas of psychiatric care and suicide prevention.
The Advocate previously reported on Chaney’s suicide, and that of another inmate, Misty Carvell, who hanged herself six weeks after Chaney did. Chaney and Carvell both visited Acadia General Hospital while in custody, and discharge papers provided to jail staff indicated they were both inclined toward self-harm.
Carvell was also under video surveillance, but she too was left hanging in her cell for two hours before paramedics were called.
At the time of their deaths, the jail did not provide any mental health care, which is required under the standards of national accrediting organizations for jails. But the Acadia Parish jail does not seek accreditation, which is voluntary. It is not clear if any changes have been made.
A Sheriff’s Office spokesman, Bart Habetz, confirmed that Benoit remains the warden but declined comment on the lawsuit.
Chaney had already harmed himself twice in less than three weeks at the jail. Three days before hanging himself, Chaney swallowed pieces of a broken mirror. He was taken to the emergency room and returned to jail with physician’s orders of bed rest and suicide watch. Prior to that he hit himself near his colostomy insertion, causing it to bleed.
Chaney attempted to kill himself shortly before he was incarcerated, and was admitted to Central Louisiana State Hospital, a psychiatric hospital, for “a few days,” according to the lawsuit.
After getting out of the hospital, Chaney “became manically depressed and started acting out,” which prompted Olga Chaney to call police, according to the lawsuit. Rocky Chaney was arrested on suspicion of domestic abuse, though Olga Chaney says she was trying find help for him.
Chaney was placed on suicide watch after swallowing the mirror pieces, but the suicide watch was botched from the start. Records of the watch log that the Sheriff’s Office provided to the Advocate show pages of missing entries, with some entries conflicting with a separate log for the entire jail. Pages from the suicide watch log representing hours-long stretches are missing altogether.
According to the lawsuit, one of the entries in the jail log says “visual rounds made at all tiers” at a time that Chaney was dead in his cell.
While on suicide watch, Chaney managed to obtain a red Sharpie, which he was not allowed to have. He used it to sketch a message in elaborate lettering — “in Jesus I have faith,” he wrote — adorned with drawings of trees, hearts and brick walls.
The Sharpie was not discovered until after Chaney’s body was found. A medical officer who visited the cell shortly before the suicide later told detectives he noticed the drawing, but not the pen.
The medic, who was responsible for supervising the suicide watch, decided to call the watch off after the visit, since Chaney had promised not to hurt himself. He did not note the drawing in the suicide watch log.
Chaney climbed onto the toilet, tied his colostomy bandage to the ceiling and hanged himself about half an hour after the medic spoke with him.