Claim: Jacqueline Bickford's Jailers Knew She Was Suicidal but Let Her Die

The late Jacqueline Bickford  holding one of her two children.
The late Jacqueline Bickford holding one of her two children. Family photo
A new lawsuit maintains that employees at the Summit County jail knew 31-year-old inmate Jacqueline Bickford was suicidal but ignored her medical needs for days prior to her death by hanging inside her cell. It's at least the third suit this decade against Summit County over alleged institutional misconduct at the facility, with the previous two, including the in-custody death of Zackary Moffitt, resulting in big payouts.

"Within the last year, Summit County has paid $3.7 million just to my clients," says attorney David Lane, who represents the Bickford estate in the complaint, which is accessible below in its entirety.

According to the document, which was filed against Sheriff John Minor and a handful of other jail staffers (not all of whom are named), Bickford was arrested by a Summit County deputy on April 6, 2016, after she was found semi-conscious in her apartment with her infant son nearby.

Because she was severely intoxicated, she was taken into custody on suspicion of child abuse and neglect.

Summit County Medical Center. - GOOGLE MAPS
Summit County Medical Center.
Google Maps
After being transported to the Summit County Medical Center, Bickford registered a blood alcohol count of .351, more than four times the legal standard for drunk driving.

Shortly thereafter, Bickford was booked at the Summit County jail. During the process, the suit quotes her as telling a medical staffer, "If you take my kid away, I will kill myself." Nonetheless, that worker wrote on her medical health form that she didn't meet the criteria for a 72-hour medical hold — standard procedure when an individual is deemed to be a danger to herself or others.

The suit adds that the same employee had authorized a 72-hour hold on Bickford just over two weeks earlier, on March 20, after determining that she was suicidal during a visit to the Summit Safe Haven Detox Facility.

Early the next morning, April 7, Bickford noted on an intake questionnaire that she had previously suffered severe withdrawal symptoms from alcohol and was taking prescription anti-depressants for anxiety. She also reiterated that she was suicidal, prompting a deputy to note on the form that she "wants to kill herself."

Summit County Justice Center. - GOOGLE MAPS
Summit County Justice Center.
Google Maps
Over the course of the next several days, the lawsuit continues, Bickford told jail personnel that her incarceration was leading to increased stress and asked again for her prescription medication. But the only meds she was given, record show, were Ibuprofen and Pepto-Bismol.

On April 10, after Bickford was informed that a restraining order had been placed against her in regard to her son, jail personnel noticed that she was undergoing classic symptoms of alcohol withdrawal: vomiting, sweating, shaking. She was subsequently taken to the booking desk, where she begged not to be taken back to her cell. But in the early-morning hours of the 11th, personnel determined that her health had improved and returned her to the pod to which she'd been assigned.

Bickford had denied she wanted to hurt herself amid these exchanges, the suit acknowledges. However, she hanged herself with a bed sheet later that day.

In Lane's view, the jailers' actions add up to "deliberate indifference to the serious medical needs of an inmate. The Supreme Court has held that psychiatric and psychological needs are serious medical needs, especially when they're life-threatening. And what happened to Jacqueline Bickford is consistent with a shameful history in Summit County of ignoring the serious medical needs of inmates."

A lawsuit over Zachary Moffitt's death in Summit County resulted in a $3.5 million judgment. - FILE PHOTO
A lawsuit over Zachary Moffitt's death in Summit County resulted in a $3.5 million judgment.
File photo
As an example, Lane cites Moffitt, who also had an alcohol problem; when he was admitted to the jail in 2013, his BAC was .392. But instead of taking him to the medical center, Moffitt was booked into jail, where, over the next three days, his condition deteriorated. He's said to have vomited green bile, suffered from delirium tremens, also known as the DTs, expressed suicidal thoughts and started hallucinating; at one point, he stripped naked in his cell and told deputies he was hearing voices. These episodes ended when Moffitt went into cardiac arrest. At that point, he was finally taken to a hospital, but he couldn't be saved.

The Moffitt lawsuit was filed in 2015 and settled last November for $3.5 million, shortly after a $200,000 payment was made to another Lane client, James Durkee. In the latter case, Lane says, "Durkee's life was being threatened by another inmate — but Summit County mixed the two of them together knowing one was a threat to the other. Then, Durkee got his face caved in — and Summit County had to pay $200,000."

In Bickford's case, "she was begging the staff to give her the anti-depressants that had been prescribed to her and told them she was suicidal," Lane contends. "But they never gave her anything, and what happened afterward has been terrible for the family. Her husband and her father are distraught, and she leaves behind an infant child. It's been just devastating for the family."

Sheriff Minor, the Bickford suit's lead plaintiff, is no longer in office. Still, Lane says, "I don't have any idea if the jail's any better or worse than when he was there. But either way, this should be a message to the voters of Summit County. As long as they're willing to tolerate jails that violate the Constitution, they'll continue to be taxed millions of dollars because inmates are being abused."

Click to read the Estate of Jacqueline Bickford v. Sheriff John Minor et. al.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts