Sheriff Marlin Gusman has settled a wrongful-death lawsuit filed by the family of an inmate who hanged himself in Orleans Parish Prison more than two years ago.
The Sheriff’s Office agreed to pay more than $160,000 to settle claims that deputies denied Clifton Morgan psychiatric treatment and ignored several signs that the 28-year-old man intended to take his life, according to two people familiar with the terms of the settlement. The Sheriff’s Office admitted no wrongdoing.
The family’s lawsuit claimed Morgan’s death in September 2013 was “entirely preventable” and part of a pattern of “deliberate indifference and culpable negligence that has resulted in at least 43 in-custody deaths” at the jail since April 2006.
An attorney for Morgan’s family declined to comment Monday. The Sheriff’s Office also offered no comment.
The lawsuit, filed last year in U.S. District Court, accused jail officials of several acts of negligence beginning the moment Morgan arrived at the jail. It said deputies should have noticed that Morgan needed to be taken to the hospital as soon as he was booked on simple burglary.
Authorities have said Morgan asked to be removed from his assigned tier and that he was placed in a holding cell across from a watch commander’s office. He was found unresponsive in the cell and was declared dead after officials failed to resuscitate him.
Morgan had been placed on suicide watch after a mental health screening and at one point was taken to the hospital for further evaluation. However, he was later returned to the jail and placed in the general population.
The lawsuit also claims Morgan was denied his psychotropic medications while on suicide watch. According to the lawsuit, he had told deputies he had been taking the medication Seroquel for three years and that he’d last taken it the day before he was arrested.
The lawsuit said the Sheriff’s Office failed to obtain the man’s medical records from the Algiers Behavioral Health Center even after he told them he had been treated for schizophrenia.
The treatment of mentally ill inmates in New Orleans was one of the factors that prompted a federal judge to declare the jail’s conditions unconstitutional and order sweeping reforms.
The lawsuit referred to dozens of deaths at OPP and invoked the federal consent decree that became effective soon after Morgan died.
The decree — an agreement among Gusman, the U.S. Department of Justice and a group of inmates who filed a class-action lawsuit against the sheriff — calls for a wide range of changes in the treatment of inmates and includes measures intended to prevent suicides.
Despite the federally monitored reforms, a 24-year-old inmate facing aggravated rape charges committed suicide at the jail earlier this year, renewing concerns about the supervision of inmates. That inmate, Ryan Miller, hanged himself in the jail’s Templeman V facility with a telephone cord.
A few months later, another inmate, Earnest Smith, tri ed to hang himself soon after he was arrested in connection with a string of armed robberies. Smith was placed on a ventilator and was showing minimal brain activity in June but since then has made a remarkable recovery, according to his wife.
In an unrelated wrongful-death case, a state appeals court last week upheld a $500,000 civil judgment awarded to the family of Kerry Washington, an inmate who died in the jail in 2006 after being placed in five-point restraints.
Washington’s wife accused deputies of mistreating him during a brief stay at OPP, where he was held for failing to appear in court.
Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.