·  Legal News, Analysis, & Commentary

Verdicts & Settlements

Wisconsin Taxpayers Shell Out $1m in Death of Former Inmate Jeremy Cunningham

— January 10, 2018

Wisconsin taxpayers are due to pay $1 million to settle a lawsuit over the death of former inmate Jeremy Cunningham.

The 34-year old ex-convict was found dead in his cell by paramedics in 2011.

According to Cunningham’s estate and attorneys, a guard at Milwaukee Detention Facility knew the inmate had a heart condition. But for some reason, the officer didn’t show much concern when Cunningham’s cellmate sounded an emergency alarm.

While Cunningham was suffering from a catastrophic seizure, the guard dismissed the call, saying the seizure sounded like “snoring.”

Only hours later were medical personnel dispatched to check on the 34-year old, who was immediately pronounced dead.

Cunningham’s estate filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of Jeremy’s 15-year old son, naming the individual guard in his official capacity as a defendant.

The settlement, reports the Journal Sentinel Online, was reached in June and recently obtained by the publication through an open records request.

Cindy Telford, Cunningham’s mother, said she hopes the money will help her grandson – but isn’t sure whether a simple settlement provides much in the way of accountability.

“At least my grandson will be able to go to college, but I don’t feel like anything has been done,” Telford lamented. “But when you lose your child, that never goes away. It’s been six years, but it never goes away and I don’t think it ever will.”

Jeremy Cunningham, then 34, with his son in 2011. Cunningham died after turning himself into authorities over a parole violation — he was found dead in his cell after a guard ignored an emergency call from his cellmate. Image via Journal Sentinel Online.

In another case reported by the Journal Sentinel, state taxpayers were forced to pay out $55,000 to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit by a female employee at a prison in Racine. The lady claimed one of her female supervisors had kissed and later mistreated and terminated her for refusing the advances.

The Wisconsin Department of Corrections said it was “committed to responsibility” – but, as the Journal Sentinel notes, spokesman Tristan Cook wasn’t willing to give any particulars on how it’d change policy to avoid the same sorts of suits resulting from Cunningham’s death and sexual harassment in Racine.

After the Journal Sentinel published its Tuesday piece on the $1 million payout, Cook clarified the Department’s position, saying it now conducts breathalyzer tests of all inmates and requires incoming convicts under the influence of drugs or alcohol to be admitted to a hospital prior to intake.

At the time of his death, Cunningham had been drinking – a violation of his parole, for which he turned himself into authorities. He quickly notified guards at the Milwaukee facility that’d been drinking, had taken a prescription opioid, and suffered from a heart condition called Wolff-Parkinson syndrome.

Telford, for her part, doesn’t think much will change around the Department of Corrections or in its policy.

“I just don’t understand […] there seems to be no accountability in that department whatsoever,” she said.


Man’s death in Milwaukee prison leads to $1 million settlement funded by Wisconsin taxpayers

State Settles Milwaukee Prison Death Lawsuit For $1M

Join the conversation!