Lawsuit filed over suicide in county jail

Allison Arthur aarthur@ptleader.com
Posted 7/18/17

The estate of Thomas Lorecki, who died Sept. 17, 2016 at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle after hanging himself Sept. 16, 2016 in Jefferson County Jail, has filed a lawsuit against Jefferson …

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Lawsuit filed over suicide in county jail

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The estate of Thomas Lorecki, who died Sept. 17, 2016 at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle after hanging himself Sept. 16, 2016 in Jefferson County Jail, has filed a lawsuit against Jefferson County.

Attorneys for Kele Lorecki, one of Lorecki’s grown sons, filed the suit March 28 in Kitsap County Superior Court, alleging that the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and corrections staff failed to “adequately supervise Lorecki despite his obvious suicidal state.”

In a response, attorneys representing Jefferson County filed a brief April 24 contending that Thomas Lorecki “was responsible for and assumed the risks of his conduct which was the proximate cause of his death.”

Attorney W. Dale Kamerrer of Law, Lyman, Daniel, Kamerrer & Bogdanovich, a firm in Tumwater, Washington, hired by a risk pool that represents Jefferson County, asked in his response that the case be dismissed and if it’s not dismissed, that a jury determine the “percentage of the total fault which is attributable to every person who caused plaintiff’s damages, if any.”

The county’s response also mentions two people who jail officials say knew Thomas Lorecki was suicidal and did not share that information. One of those people is related to Lorecki; the other was a cellmate.

The county’s response also notes Kitsap Mental Health Services as a potentially at-fault entity, although the suit Kele Lorecki filed does not name Kitsap Mental Health Services as a defendant.

CASE IN DISCOVERY STAGE

Kamerrer said the case still is in the discovery and investigative stage and that the county is seeking information from the plaintiff and vice versa.

He said the reason that the two people are named in the county’s response is that both had talked to Thomas Lorecki in the last days of his life.

“Both people talked to Thomas Lorecki in the last days of his life and were told he wanted to die, and neither of them passed that information on to the jail staff,” Kamerrer said. “If [jail staff] had known that, they would have placed him in a closed observation cell.”

When inmates are placed in observation cells, jail staff is required to check on inmates every 15 minutes. Inmates who indicate they are thinking of suicide also are put in suicide-resistant clothing, Kamerrer said.

“Each time [Lorecki] made any statement suggesting he was suicidal, he was placed in a closed observation cell and a mental health professional was summoned, and they advised [jail staff] that he was safe to return to the general population,” Kamerrer said.

10 COUNSELOR VISITS

Kamerrer acknowledged that Lorecki was not in an observation cell when he committed suicide, which he did by using his socks and bedding that he had threaded through a wall vent about 10 feet off the ground, according to a Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office report by Sgt. Andy Pernsteiner on the incident. The Leader obtained the report last November through an Open Public Records Act request.

That report concluded that every time Lorecki had asked to see a mental health professional, he had been “afforded the opportunity” and that during his time in jail a year ago, “mental health professionals had visited him 10 times.”

Asked why jail officials didn’t keep Lorecki in a suicide-proof cell that did not have a vent, Kamerrer said, “That’s what they chose to do, and it was not unreasonable under the circumstances.” He reiterated that jail officials are not mental health professionals and that jail staff rely on those professionals to make decisions about the mental status of inmates.

Pernsteiner’s report also states that a cellmate had said that Lorecki talked about wanting to hang himself and that he had written a number of messages on the floor of the cell, including, “I hate life,” “F--- the world” and “F--- life.”

The report also indicated that Lorecki had at one point tried to hang himself with a T-shirt, but that it had torn, and he was upset that guards were called.

SUMMER OF 2018

Attorney Rafael Urquia, a former Jefferson County prosecuting attorney, is representing Lorecki’s estate.

Urquia said the firm is still in the discovery stage of the case and that there still is more to learn.

“The trial will probably be in the summer of 2018,” Urquia predicted. “This is a fairly complicated case, and there will be quite a few experts involved.”

Urquia reiterated what was in the suit, arguing there were signs of Lorecki being suicidal when he was first arrested for driving while intoxicated.

“There was a noose in the back of his car when he was booked in the jail. There were many signs that he was potentially suicidal,” Urquia said.

ARRESTED, IN JAIL

There are a number of events that both the estate of Lorecki and Jefferson County agree on, including the incidents that led to Lorecki, 48, being in jail last year, according to the lawsuit and the county’s response. There also are disagreements about what actually happened.

Lorecki had been in jail in July 2016. He was released on July 8. During his incarceration in July, Kele Lorecki’s attorneys say, jail officials observed Thomas Lorecki to be suicidal. Jefferson County officials deny that.

On Aug. 22, 2016, a sheriff’s deputy pulled Thomas Lorecki over on suspicion of driving under the influence. The deputy noted that Lorecki had a noose-shaped rope in the back of his car and that he said he wanted to kill himself.

Lorecki was booked into the jail and at that time, he tried to strangle himself with a phone cord. The county response uses the word “appeared.”

“Based on suicidal thoughts and expressions, Lorecki was involuntarily committed to Kitsap Mental Health Services on Aug. 24, 2016,” Kele Lorecki’s suit says. “Thomas Lorecki told Kitsap Mental Health counselors that he would refuse to eat or drink when returned to jail. He said he would be dead within 10 days.”

In response to that, the county says it “lacks information or knowledge” about what Thomas Lorecki may have told the counselor.

Both sides agree that on Aug. 26, Kitsap Mental Health Services discharged Lorecki back to Jefferson County Jail.

Neither suit names the mental health professional who did that.

NOTE OR NO NOTE?

The suit Kele Lorecki filed states there was a mental health discharge note, which Jefferson County Jail received and read, that stated that Thomas Lorecki “was overwhelmed with thoughts of suicide and needed to be carefully monitored for his safety.”

Jefferson County admits that Thomas Lorecki was returned to jail, but denied information about a discharge note.

On the night of Sept. 9, an inmate alerted jail staff that Lorecki was attempting suicide or making noises indicating that he was trying to kill himself, both sides agree.

“After hearing Thomas Lorecki’s constant thoughts and expressions of wanting to kill himself, the new cellmate eventually moved to another jail cell,” attorneys for his estate argue.

In response, attorneys for the county say, “The inmate reported after Lorecki’s death that Lorecki had frequently said he wanted to kill himself, leading that inmate to move into another cell.”

On Sept. 10, Lorecki sent a “kite” – a note – requesting to see a mental health provider to discuss his “suicide and or all the other mental health issues that he was experiencing,” the suit for the estate said. In this case, the county agreed that a note was sent.

Four days later, Lorecki saw a mental health counselor and “continued to report that he was going to kill himself,” the suit for the estate contends. The county agreed that Lorecki was seen by a mental health counselor on Sept. 14.

Then at 4:43 a.m., Sept. 16, 24 days after he was first seen by Kitsap Mental Health Services in Jefferson County Jail, jail officers found Thomas Lorecki hanging in his cell.

Attorneys for the estate say that Thomas Lorecki was “unresponsive to their attempts to revive him” and that he was transported to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where he died later that day.

Jefferson County’s response was that emergency medical technicians assumed Lorecki’s care and were able to re-establish his pulse and blood pressure, and that he was taken to Harborview, where he died on Sept. 17.

Following an autopsy on Sept. 20, the King County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled Lorecki’s death to be a suicide by asphyxia due to ligature hanging, The Leader reported last September.

A suicide note, which has not been released, was found.

DAMAGES

The estate is seeking unspecified damages for the “pre-death fear, pain and suffering of Thomas Lorecki” as well as general damages for past and future mental and physical pain and suffering of Thomas Lorecki’s children; loss of the parent-child relationship; loss of earnings and benefits from Thomas Lorecki; funeral, burial and other expenses; as well as “special damages,” which are not spelled out.

(Editor’s note: The Leader is not naming the two people Jefferson County refers to in its answer to the suit because they are not represented by attorneys and are not being sued by the estate.)

NEXT WEEK: A look inside the crisis cell, and how it an segregation cells are used at the Jefferson County Jail.

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