Judge Dismisses Civil Rights Claim Of Turner Family Lawsuit
A judge has dismissed the second half of a $1 million lawsuit against Natrona County filed by the family of a man who committed suicide in the jail three years ago.
Natrona County District Court Judge Daniel Forgey ruled last week the county did not deprive Larry Turner Jr., his civil rights when he booked in on a probation violation on March 24, 2012, and was found dead from a drug overdose the next day, according to court records.
Turner's family and the mother of his daughter filed the lawsuit in April 2014, claiming the county was negligent in its treatment of him as a prisoner and it violated his constitutional rights through "deliberate indifference."
Many of the negligence allegations claimed the jail's nurse did a poor job of evaluating Turner’s history of substance abuse, criminal history and behavior..
The jail systematically failed to follow its own policies and procedures for admitting an inmate, family attorney Tim Kingston said last fall. "This negligence lead to his death.”
But the county's attorney in this case, Hampton O’Neill, said the nurse was not peace officer but a health care provider, which meant any legal action needed to begin by bringing it before the Wyoming Medical Review Panel.
The family didn't do that and Forgey dismissed that claim in December.
However, the civil rights claim still stood.
In telephone conference last week, Forgey recounted the attorney's arguments filed with the court. The Turner family believed they had a sufficient negligence claim against the county and its employees -- the deputies at the jail -- for not providing adequate medical care to Larry Turner Jr.
However, Forgey said failure to provide adequate medical care does not rise to a civil rights claim under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment.
A similar legal issue centered on the concept of "deliberate indifference," meaning the deputies willfully did not care what happened to Turner, the judge said.
In this case, the Turner family had to prove that the deputies knew of Larry Turner Jr.'s risk of harming himself, Forgey said.
But the only specific instance the Turner family cited was a comment by an inmate to a deputy at a lunch line that Larry Turner Jr. was "'breathing funny,'" he said.
Forgey dismissed the lawsuit without prejudice, meaning the Turner family could bring the matter before the court again by amending its claims.