United States District Court, D. Delaware
ORLANDO & PAULETTE DEJESUS, FATHER AND MOTHER AND NEXT OF KIN OF BLAISE DEJESUS, DECEASED, Plaintiffs,
THE STATE OF DELAWARE, et. al., Defendants.
C. Herr, LAW OFFICE OF DANIEL C. HERR LLC, Wilmington,
Delaware Counsel for Plaintiffs.
C. Handlon, Ryan P. Cornell, DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE,
Wilmington, Delaware Counsel for Defendants.
F. CONNOLLY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Todd Drace, John Kirlin, and Tiffani Starkey have moved for
summary judgment on Plaintiffs' claim for damages brought
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. D.I. 57. Defendants are
correctional officers who worked in the segregated housing
unit ("SHU") of the James T. Vaughn Correctional
Center the day Blaise DeJesus committed suicide in an SHU
cell. Plaintiffs, the parents of DeJesus, base their §
1983 claim on alleged violations of the Eighth and Fourteenth
Amendments of the United States Constitution. For the reasons
discussed below, I will grant Defendants' motion.
August 1, 2014, DeJesus was convicted of violating the terms
of his probation. D.I. 58 at 3. Based on his previous heroin
use, he was sentenced to complete the CREST Substance Abuse
Program and was immediately committed to the Central
Violation Probation Center to await transfer to the CREST
program. D.I. 1 ¶¶ 13-15. When DeJesus exhibited
withdrawal symptoms at the probation center, he was
transferred to Vaughn's infirmary for treatment.
Id. ¶¶ 16-17. At the infirmary, medical
professionals treated DeJesus for four days before
discharging him on August 5, 2014. Id. ¶¶
18-20. Upon his release, an order was placed to transfer
DeJesus to Vaughn's general inmate housing. Id.
¶ 21. But when it was discovered that DeJesus's
brother worked at Vaughn, DeJesus was instead transferred to
the SHU to separate him from other prisoners for safety
reasons. Id. ¶¶ 23-24.
Drace escorted DeJesus to his single cell in the SHU at
around 3:30 p.m. on August 5, 2014. D.I. 59 at A-29. A few
hours later, DeJesus hung himself in his cell. D.I. 1 ¶
43. Prison staff found DeJesus's body at 9:35 p.m. D.I.
63 Ex. A; D.I. 59 at A-34 ¶ 7. DeJesus was pronounced
dead at 10:05 p.m. D.I. 63 Ex. A.
parties agree that DeJesus interacted with Defendants during
his brief time in the SHU. The parties very much dispute,
however, the extent and nature of those interactions.
their opposition to Defendants' summary judgment motion,
Plaintiffs rely on the deposition testimony of four witnesses
who were incarcerated in the SHU on the day of DeJesus's
suicide. That testimony is conflicting, but viewed in the
light most favorable to Plaintiffs, at least one inmate
witness testified that DeJesus told Officers Starkey and
Kirlin that he did not belong in the SHU, D.I. 61 Ex. B at
8:15, Ex. E at 14:15-16; D.I. 59 at A-34 ¶ 2, that he
could not "take being in the [SHU]," D.I. 61 Ex. D
at 6:8-9, Ex. F at 5, that he wanted to speak to someone,
id. Ex. E at 13:12-13, 14:3-5, Ex. B at 8:13-14, Ex.
D at 5:21, 8:4, that he needed to make a phone call,
id. Ex. E at 6:11-13, 13:11-12, Ex. C at 6:6-7,
16:5, that he "wasn't in his right state of
mind," id. Ex. B at 6:13-14, that he felt sick
and was "not right," id. Ex. B at
10:12-13, that he was feeling anxious, id. Ex. B at
14:2-5, and that he was going through withdrawals,
id. Ex. B at 8:16-24. One of the inmate witnesses
testified that he "think[s]" but is "not...
sure" that DeJesus told Officer Drace "to call
mental health or something like that," id. Ex.
C at 14:19-23, 15:13-23, and that DeJesus told Officer
Starkey "[s]omething about the mental health,"
id. Ex. C at 17:6-7. One of the inmate witnesses
testified that Officers Starkey and Kirlin "kept
brushing [DeJesus] off." Id. Ex. B at 6:15.
Another inmate similarly testified that those officers
"blew [DeJesus] off." Id. Ex. D at 16:2-4.
One of the inmate witnesses testified that DeJesus cried
during a discussion with Officer Starkey and that Officers
Starkey and Kirlin laughed about the discussion. Id.
Ex. E at 10:17-20, 12:4-21. Finally, an inmate witness
testified that DeJesus looked "disheveled."
Id. Ex. B at 5:7.
Drace recalled nothing notable about DeJesus in his
interactions with him. Drace observed that DeJesus's
posture was "just more head down," but Drace did
not recall any crying or weeping on DeJesus's part. D.I.
59 at A-31. Officer Starkey testified that, while in the SHU,
DeJesus mentioned "something about not belonging in this
cell" but she noted that "[n]othing seemed off with
him." Id. at A-34 ¶¶ 2-3. She also
stated that DeJesus did not express any thoughts of suicide
or self-harm. Id. at A-34 ¶ 3. Finally, Officer
Kirlin stated that nothing about DeJesus's behavior
suggested to him "that he posed a suicide risk."
Id. at A-35¶4.
at Vaughn performed an investigation into the circumstances
regarding DeJesus's suicide. See D.I. 61 Ex. F
at 1. An official memorandum describing the investigation
stated that area checks and phone punches had not been
completed on A-tier (the tier on which DeJesus was located)
for two and a half hours the evening of DeJesus's
suicide. Id. Officer Kirlin was suspended for three
days because of his failure to ensure that the area checks
and punches were performed that night. Id. SHU
inmates testified that Officer Kirlin often failed to conduct
the required checks. Id. Ex. E at 22:4-23:17, Ex. B
at 7:22-8:9, Ex. C at 9:6-7, Ex. F at 5.