Family of Ohio county inmate who died by suicide to get $2.1M settlement
A change in intake procedures meant to cut down on CO overtime meant hundreds of inmates went without full medical screenings
By Adam Ferrise
CLEVELAND, Ohio — The family of a man who took his own life in the Cuyahoga County Jail, after months of warnings from medical officials that new inmates were not getting proper medical screenings, will get a $2.1 million settlement.
Cuyahoga County will pay $1.4 million and an insurance company representing MetroHealth and the county pay $700,000 to the family of Brendan Kiekisz, according to county records and MetroHealth officials.
Kiekisz’s 2018 death was the eighth in a six-month span at the jail and came as medical officials begged top county officials to ensure incoming inmates received a medical screening, including properly documenting and caring for people who said they were potentially suicidal.
[RELATED: 10 warning signs of suicidal inmates]
The death also came after a U.S. Marshals Service report in November 2018 that found “inhumane conditions” for inmates and that inmates with mental illness received poor care in custody.
The settlement must be approved by Cuyahoga County Council, which is set to vote on the settlement at Tuesday’s meeting. County spokeswoman Mary Louise Madigan and MetroHealth spokesman Mike Tobin declined to comment. The Kiekisz family attorney, Paul Cristallo, also declined comment.
The settlement is the largest so far among 30 lawsuits filed in inmate deaths, beatings and mismanagement at the jail. It tops the $1.1 million settlement between the county and the family of Shone Trawick, who was beaten to death by a cellmate in 2020. Eleven of the 30 jail-related settlements so far paid out a total of $6.4 million.
The deaths sparked change to the way the state oversees local jails, forced the U.S. Marshals investigation and a criminal investigation by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office that ended in a dozen convictions of jail guards and officials.
The criminal convictions included the former warden, Eric Ivey, and the former jail director, Ken Mills, whom a jury found guilty of negligently making decisions that made the jail unsafe by cutting basic costs for inmates while packing the facility through the county’s jail regionalization efforts.
Ivey, during an interview with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and FBI investigators, cited Kiekisz’s death as particularly preventable.
Kiekisz, 27, was booked into the jail Dec. 25 after a judge issued a warrant because he failed to appear at a probation violation hearing. Kiekisz was in a treatment facility following a heroin overdose.
Cleveland police had arrested Kiekisz on the warrant on Christmas night. About a month prior, jail officials had changed the way they screened new inmates.
Instead of giving inmates medical screenings during the booking process, Mills and Ivey decided to have corrections officers record inmates’ preliminary medical information and send them to see nurses on a different floor.
That decision caused hundreds of inmates to go without a full medical screening. Jail medical staff, in emails previously obtained by cleveland.com, repeatedly pleaded with county officials to change the procedure. The calls were met with no response.
Ivey told investigators that Mills made the decision to change the process in order to cut down on paying overtime to corrections officers. Mills was convicted at trial of several charges related to his mismanagement at the jail and was sentenced to nine months in prison.
[More: Convicted Ohio jail director 'needs to become a prisoner himself,' prosecutors say in pre-sentencing filings]
Kiekisz told jail officers that he had recently tried to take his own life two days before his arrest, that he suffered from bipolar disorder and that he took medication. He never got a medical screening, but someone — it’s still unclear who — used a stamp to say Kiekisz got a medical screening.
Nurses and corrections officers later told Ohio Attorney General’s Office investigators that Kiekisz should have been on suicide watch instead of in the general population.
Kiekisz went in front of a judge on Dec. 27 and said he hadn’t received any medication since he was booked into the jail and that he was feeling “really messed up,” according to the lawsuit. The judge ruled he did not violate the terms of his probation and ordered him released.
Kiekisz went back to his cell, and an officer later in the night found him unconscious with a blanket wrapped around his throat. He was put on life support for three days before he died.
In those three days, then-Sheriff Clifford Pinkney reversed the way the jail had conducted the intake process to ensure all inmates got screened upon booking.
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