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Wrongful death lawsuit filed against Ottawa County after inmate's suicide

Prison bars
flickr user Thomas Hawk

The family of a veteran who committed suicide in an Ottawa County jail cell two years ago has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the county.

Scott Meirs was left alone in a single-person cell several days after he was arrested for breaking into a neighbor's home and stealing prescription medication.

The lawsuit says staff members were aware Meirs was on prescription medication for post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, chronic pain and drug addiction when he was admitted to the jail.

In the following days, Meirs allegedly complained he wasn't receiving adequate medication in the jail and told several other inmates he planned to commit suicide. 

Julie Herwitz, an attorney for the family, said the inmates tried to warn staff members.

"[Staff members] ignored it, thinking, 'Oh, we'll deal with it later,'" Herwitz said. "When somebody's suicidal, you can't say, 'Oh, I'll deal with with later.'" 

Meirs was placed in isolation following a rules violation.

The lawsuit says the only monitoring of Meirs was "in the form of rapid walk-bys of his cell, once every hour, at best."

Video footage showed a guard last checked on him around 10:51 p.m. 

Around 1:44 a.m., a guard discovered Meirs had used a bed sheet to hang himself. He died in a hospital several days later.

Hurwitz said his family wants to ensure inmates are taken more seriously. 

"Experts have said for decades when a prisoner or someone in your custody expresses any kind of suicidal intent, you are to err on the side of caution," Herwitz said. "This is a mental health issue, not a criminal justice issue."

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court.

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