By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A former Wisconsin youth prison inmate who was brain damaged in a suicide attempt alleges in a lawsuit filed Monday that staff ignored warning signs and failed to prevent her from hanging herself, marking the second federal action in a week over the treatment of inmates at the prison.
The filing represents yet another black eye for the prison in Irma. Civil rights groups filed a lawsuit Jan. 23 alleging guards excessively pepper spray inmates and needlessly place them in solitary confinement and federal investigators are looking into allegations of widespread inmate abuse at the facility.
According to the new lawsuit, the girl told prison staff she had thoughts about killing herself. She was 16 when she entered Copper Lake, the prison’s female wing, in July 2015. She told staff she had bipolar disorder and anxiety and had tried to hurt herself at least three times.
Her doctor at the prison, Gabriella Hangiandreou, documented in late October 2015 that the girl was having suicidal thoughts and her depression was growing worse. Yet guards were never told she was a suicide risk, she wasn’t given a roommate, wasn’t placed in a room with a camera and wasn’t placed on an observation schedule after Oct. 25, the lawsuit alleged.
She hung herself on Nov. 9, 2015, the lawsuit said. A guard looked into her room and saw her hanging but didn’t go in immediately. Eventually he and another guard entered the room and cut her down. Two guards began artificial respiration, but when a nurse was paged she wasn’t told there was a life-threatening emergency.
The girl will require around-the-clock care for the rest of her life, according to the lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages.
The lawsuit contends the prison’s executive staff knew their employees were stretched too thin and were undertrained in how to prevent suicides and knew it was only a matter of time until someone successfully killed herself given a long string of attempts at the prison. The filing also accuses Hangiandreou of medical malpractice.
Department of Corrections spokesman Tristan Cook said the agency would review the lawsuit and had no further comment. Hangiandreou’s attorney, Jill Munson, declined to comment.
Problems at the prison came to light in December 2015 when word broke that state agents had spent the past year investigating allegations of widespread abuse. The FBI has since taken over the probe. No one has been charged, but a number of high-ranking Corrections officials have either resigned or retired.