Lawsuit: U.P. inmate who committed suicide was egged on by guards

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The family of an Alma man who hanged himself after prison guards allegedly egged him on with ‘go ahead and do it,’ has filed a federal lawsuit against the Michigan Department of Corrections and several employees.

The family of Jeremy Alan Garza says he told corrections officers at Marquette Branch Prison in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula that he was going to kill himself. Staff started to laugh and told Garza “go ahead and do it,’’ according to the lawsuit filed this week in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids.

Garza was found late the morning of April 10, 2014 hanging in his cell. He was pronounced dead 40 minutes later. The hanging occurred about a half-hour after he told prison guards of his suicidal intent, according to the lawsuit.

It accuses the state of “deliberate indifference’’ and failing to adequately train and supervise prison employees.

It also accuses state officials of not providing mental health treatment for inmates at Marquette Branch Prison. Staff routinely ignored “suicidal ideation statements’’ similar to those made by Garza, the lawsuit contends.

The lawsuit seeks more than $75,000 in damages. Officials with the state Department of Corrections were not immediately available for comment on Thursday.

A Gratiot County judge in Nov. 2012 sentenced Garza to between 2½ and 20 years in prison for breaking and entering. He was arrested that spring after police found him stuck in the ductwork of a Family Fare grocery store in Alma. He was on parole at the time for another break-in.

Suicidal inmates such as Garza are not supervised “when it was obvious that such a prisoner needed constant supervision,’’ attorney S. Jay Ahmad wrote in the 14-page complaint.

On the morning of his death, Garza, 32, was visited by his mother, who stayed for two hours, according to the lawsuit. When he returned to his cell about 10:30 a.m., Garza saw five prison employees “removing personal items from his cell for no apparent reason.’’ 

He asked the corrections officers to leave his stuff alone, “but they refused and gave no explanation as to why they were removing his belongings,’’ the complaint states.

That is when Garza told corrections officers he was going to kill himself.  Garza at the time suffered from a psychiatric condition prison staff “failed to treat properly,’’ the lawsuit claims.

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