Metro-East News

St. Clair County sheriff, jail officials sued over 2014 suicide

Thirteen county jail personnel are named in the lawsuit, including Sheriff Rick Watson.
Thirteen county jail personnel are named in the lawsuit, including Sheriff Rick Watson. BND

For the second time this month, St. Clair County Jail is facing a lawsuit filed by the estate of an inmate who committed suicide.

The estate of Bradley C. Scarpi filed suit Friday in federal court against Sheriff Rick Watson, along with 13 jail officials, including jail superintendent Major Phillip McLaurin.

Scarpi, 33, of Belleville, died at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Belleville on May 23, 2014, less than an hour after he was found hanging from his cell bars.

About five hours after telling his jailers that he intended to kill himself and being told “Whatever. Do what you want to do,” Scarpi was found hanging by a bedsheet, according to a lawsuit.

Scarpi was being held on home invasion and armed robbery charges.

The lawsuit says Scarpi lived with serious mental illness and had developed an addiction to prescription pain pills following a job-related back injury.

This is the second federal lawsuit this month brought by the MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern University and Belleville attorney Latoya Berry against St. Clair County in connection to a jail suicide.

The Justice Center and Berry also represent the estate of Joshua Jurcich, who hung himself in a jail cell two months before Scarpi committed suicide.

Watson said he reviewed Scarpi’s file, and that of Jurcich, and the county followed all rules, procedures and statutes. He added there were no indicators they would be suicidal.

“There’s nothing that said we needed to watch this person more than we needed according to statute,” Watson said.

For 11 years, Scarpi had been in and out of the St. Clair County Jail, and had been in the jail a little more than a month before his death. On the day of his suicide, Scarpi told officers he had been threatened by others in the jail and requested to be moved away from the two men making the threats and their friends, according to the Scarpi lawsuit.

Scarpi was moved to the E-Max cell block, where the MacArthur Justice Center says his cell was not adequately suicide-proof. Scarpi then told Officer Christopher Lanzante that he was going to kill himself, the suit alleges. Lanzante responded: “Whatever. Do what you want to do,” and walked away, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit alleges jail officials failed to provide Scarpi with adequate mental health services, failed to place him in a suicide-proof cell and failed to conduct regular checks on him while he was in his cell.

“Brad was more than a victim of the St. Clair County Jail’s cruelty and indifference,” said Dwayne White, Scarpi’s older brother and executor of his estate. “He was a brother, a son, a father and a friend to so many. He is loved and missed. Our family is bringing this lawsuit to uncover the truth about what happened to Brad and to help ensure that no other family has to suffer this kind of loss.”

St. Clair County Sheriff’s Major Tom Knapp said all correctional officers have to go through a suicide-prevention course each year.

Watson added all of the officers in the jail involved were up-to-date on training records.

According to Watson, the county’s correctional officers conduct cell checks every half hour. If someone has indications of being suicidal, the checks are increased to every 15 minutes.

Watson and Knapp also said there is a psychiatrist available for inmates, and correctional officers have saved inmates who have attempted suicide.

“We’ve done a very good job of identifying people who need mental health or attempted suicide,” Watson said.

“Nobody wants anyone to commit suicide. That’s a humanity thing,” Watson added. “We don’t want this to happen ... We’ll do everything we can to help you. We do everything we can to do a good job.”

The latest complaint, filed on behalf of two young sons of Scarpi, seeks unspecified money damages for the death.

Watson said he is not surprised any time a lawsuit is filed.

“A lot of times they’re filing a lawsuit because they think they will get a check,” Watson said.

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