On February 6, 2015, GLG successfully defeated a Motion for Summary Judgment in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland in a case arising from Justin Lihvarchik’s suicide at the Frederick County Adult Detention Center on June 10, 2009. This allows the case to proceed to trial against three Frederick County deputies who remain in the case.
Just hours before his death, Frederick County deputies responded to a disturbance involving Mr. Lihvarchik. During the course of responding, there were multiple independent indications that Mr. Lihvarchik was suicidal which were clearly made known to the officers. In spite of this, they did nothing and merely brought him to the jail –without even telling jail personnel of the risk. Hours later, Mr. Lihvarchik was dead in his cell.
The individual defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that none of them knew that Mr. Lihvarchik was at a high risk for suicide, and that the case should therefore not be permitted to move forward under the applicable “deliberate indifference” standard of the Fourteenth Amendment. Under this standard, the plaintiff must show that the defendants actually knew and disregarded an objectively serious risk the detainee would commit suicide.
While the defendants argued vehemently in their brief that the responding officers had no knowledge of Mr. Lihvarchik’s high risk for suicide, plaintiff responded by citing the overwhelming evidence demonstrating that he had just threatened (indeed attempted) suicide shortly before he was arrested—by cutting his neck with a pizza cutter and leaving a visible mark—and that this and other key facts were relayed to the responding law enforcement officers in multiple ways. Besides the clearly visible cut on his neck, the fact of Mr. Lihvarchik’s threats and attempted suicide with a pizza cutter were conveyed to responding officers both by a police dispatcher over the radio and by witnesses at the scene of the arrest. The suicide attempt was even listed on a form filled out by a witness and given to the officers. Knowing about reports of the pizza cutter, the arresting officers questioned Mr. Lihvarchik about his suicidal intentions. Nevertheless, they took no action and merely handed him off to the jail without providing any information about what they knew—thus preordaining the unfortunate result that followed.
In denying summary judgment against three of the responding officers, the Court cited much of the evidence described above and concluded that, “based on the record, a reasonable factfinder could conclude the deputies did in fact have actual knowledge of Lihvarchik’s suicide risk. And, inaction in light of that risk would constitute deliberate indifference.” As a result of this opinion, the Federal Constitutional claims under the 14th Amendment, as well as Maryland state claims for gross negligence, will proceed to trial.
According to Plaintiff’s attorney Peter Grenier, “the record in this case makes clear that the deputies knew that Justin Lihvarchik had just tried to kill himself, and the fact that they chose to ignore this information rather than simply passing it on to the jailers demonstrates deliberate indifference. We are very pleased with this result, and are anxious to take this case to trial.”
This is the third case that GLG has handled regarding suicides in the Frederick County Adult Detention Center. In December, GLG successfully settled two wrongful-death lawsuits stemming from suicides of other inmates at the county jail. One case involved Valerie Ann Miller, who hanged herself with a bed sheet in October 2010. The other involved William John Hanlin, who hanged himself with a bed sheet in July 2010. The terms of these settlements are confidential.