Twenty-nine-year-old Archon Garner killed himself two days after being released from suicide watch.
The family of an inmate who struggled with mental illness for nearly 20 years before killing himself in a Pendleton prison has filed a lawsuit against the Indiana Department of Correction.
According to The Indianapolis Star, the federal lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana on behalf of Archon “Shawnie” Garner.
The complaint names as defendants the Indiana D.O.C., agency commissioner Rob Carter, and nine employees at Pendleton Correctional Facility.
The Star notes that private medical contractor Wexford of Indiana, LLC, three of its doctors, and two other workers are listed as defendants.
The lawsuit broadly alleges that Garner’s civil rights were violated, insofar as he was denied access to quality medical care.
The complaint also claims that Garner was a victim of medical malpractice, as well as the prison’s failure to “take necessary and appropriate measures to monitor and protect him and to treat his acute psychiatric condition.”
Garner, says The Indianapolis Star, was found dead in his cell at Pendleton on July 16th, 2020; he had slashed open his own neck with a razor blade.
Garner’s death was ruled a suicide, and came after the 29-year-old man had attempted suicide at least four times between April and June 2020. Garner had, in fact, been released from suicide watch only two days before he succeeded in taking his own life.
The decision to release him from suicide watch was made by a Wexler employee “without seeking approval from a supervisor, and despite the fact that she lacked the qualifications to properly assess Mr. Garner and remove him from suicide watch.”
The lawsuit, adds the Star, was filed on behalf of Garner’s family by attorneys from the Roderick and MacArthur Justice Center at the Northwestern University School of Law.
Vanessa del Valle, a law professor and attorney with the Justice Center, said MacArthur took on the case for a number of different reasons, including “the severity of the constitutional violations.”
“It was very clear that Archon was severely mentally ill and needed help and that his death was preventable,” del Valle said. “And we just hope to seek some sort of justice for his family.”
“Prisons are not mental health institutions and we need to pursue non-carceral strategies for vulnerable mentally ill people like Archon,” she said. “Archon shouldn’t have been in prison. He should have been in an inpatient mental health facility where he could get real psychiatric treatment. And if he had been, he would still be alive with us today.”