United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division
EAAN SILCOX, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Aaron John Silcox, Plaintiff,
MARK HUNTER, in his official capacity as Columbia County Sheriff, Defendant.
TIMOTHY J. CORRIGAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
pretrial detainee committed suicide in the Columbia County
Detention Facility. Is the Sheriff liable under either §
1983 or in negligence?
Eaan Silcox, as Personal Representative of the estate of
Aaron Silcox, seeks damages from the Sheriff of Columbia
County after Aaron Silcox committed suicide as a pretrial
detainee in the Columbia County Detention Facility (the
“jail”). Currently pending before the Court are
Defendant Sheriff Mark Hunter's Amended Motion for
Summary Judgment, (Doc. 46), and Daubert Motion,
(Doc. 39), and Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary
Judgment, (Doc. 41). Plaintiff responded to both of
Hunter's motions, (Docs. 47; 49), and Hunter responded to
Plaintiff's motion, (Doc. 48). On June 18, 2018, the
Court held a hearing on the motions, the record of which is
incorporated herein. (Doc. 53).
Silcox's Arrest, Medical Evaluations, and
13, 2015, Jessica Hosford called the Columbia County Dispatch
to alert them that Aaron Silcox, the father of two of her
children, had overdosed on an unknown substance. (Doc. 40-1
at 1-2). Hosford provided Silcox's number to deputies,
and they obtained a GPS location for his phone. (Doc. 40-1 at
1-2). When deputies arrived, they found a man who identified
himself as John Price, who told the deputies where to find
Silcox. (Doc. 40-1 at 1-2). Upon arriving at this new
location, the deputies realized that the man they had just
spoken with was Silcox. (Doc. 40-1 at 1-2).
the deputies returned to the previous location, Silcox was
not there, so they called for a K-9 dog to help search the
nearby woods. (Doc. 40-1 at 1-2). Once found, Silcox did not
comply with the deputies' commands and was bitten by the
police dog. (Doc. 40-1 at 1-2). Silcox told a deputy that he
wanted to kill himself and had taken a “handful”
of his prescription medication and aspirin. (Doc. 40-1 at
1-2). Emergency Medical Services transported Silcox to Shands
Lake Shore Hospital where a physician determined Silcox
should be taken to a facility for an involuntary mental
health examination under Florida's Baker Act, Florida
Statute § 394.463. (Doc. 40-1 at 1-3). Silcox's
toxicology screenings did not return abnormal levels for the
pills he claimed to have ingested, but did test positive for
the presence of amphetamines, methamphetamines, and THC.
(Doc. 40-2 at 4). Emergency room personnel treated Silcox for
dog bite injuries he sustained during his arrest, and
self-inflicted cuts to his forearm, which Silcox told the
emergency room nurse he did with a pocket knife in an attempt
to kill himself. (Doc. 40-2 at 1).
remained in the hospital overnight, and while he was there
Hosford called the jail to make sure they knew Silcox was
suicidal. (Doc. 49-13 at 99). Although Silcox was still in
the hospital, the jail representative told Hosford that
Silcox was at the jail and that they would take care of him.
(Doc. 49-13 at 99-100).
next day, June 14, 2015, Silcox was involuntarily transferred
to Meridian Behavioral Healthcare in Lake City for
psychiatric evaluation. (Doc. 40-2 at 2). Dr. Robert
Bachus evaluated Silcox at Meridian. (Doc. 40-4
at 1). Bachus is a licensed psychiatrist who had
approximately twenty years of experience. (Doc. 49-17 at
5-7). Bachus determined that Silcox “is a chronic drug
abuser who experiences bouts of depression associated with
consequences of his addiction. He is psychiatrically stable
enough to be placed in jail for drug associated charges. No.
psych meds indicated.” (Doc. 49-17 at 27);
(see Doc. 40-4 at 1). Although Bachus believed that
Silcox was a suicide risk, he did not indicate that opinion
anywhere in his records nor did he tell anyone from
Hunter's office. (Doc. 49-17 at 44).
being discharged from Meridian, deputies brought Silcox to
the jail. (Doc. 40-5 at 1). On his initial medical
questionnaire, Silcox stated that he had never attempted
suicide nor did he feel like attempting suicide at that time.
(Doc. 40-5 at 1). During previous jail stays, Silcox had
specified on his initial medical questionnaire that he had
previously attempted or contemplated suicide. (Docs. 49-2;
49-3). The following morning, June 16, 2015, jail nurse Rex
Nichola denoted on Silcox's medical screening form that
he had mental health problems and had attempted suicide two
days prior, but that he was not currently contemplating
suicide and did not have feelings of hopelessness. (Doc. 40-5
at 4). Based on his assessment, Nichola recommended Silcox be
placed in the jail's general population. (Doc. 40-5 at 4).
days later, Silcox was caught fighting another inmate, so
under jail policy, both inmates were moved to the F-max dorm
for administrative confinement. (Doc. 46 at 6). The F-max
dorm has eighteen cells and houses inmates needing protective
custody, administrative confinement, or disciplinary
confinement. (Doc. 49-15 at 30, 36). In the F-max dorm, the
officer on duty is located in an officer station that has a
computer for the electronic logs and closed circuit monitors
for watching the movements of the inmates in their cells.
(Doc. 49-15 at 29, 53).
Officer Dillon Moore was responsible for the F-max dorm on
June 18, 2015. (Doc. 49-15 at 13). At approximately 7:00 p.m.
that evening, Silcox arrived at the F-max dorm. (Doc. 40-8 at
1). Moore watched Silcox go into cell number two, which was
unoccupied and had a bunkbed, and throw his sheet, along with
other belongings, onto the top bunk. (Doc. 49-15 at 35-36,
38- 39). Moore had never met Silcox and did not know anything
about his prior suicide attempts or mental health issues.
(Doc. 49-15 at 39-40). When Silcox first arrived, Moore knew
he was upset because “[h]e was just in a fight. And I
was watching and he sat down, lay on the floor, sit back up
and, I mean, he was just everywhere.” (Doc. 49-15 at
thirty minutes later, a civilian came into the F-max dorm to
pass out canteen. (Doc. 40-8 at 1). During canteen
distribution, Moore left the officer station and went into
the dorm hallway to “provide order” while the
civilian and a trustee distributed canteen to the F-max inmates.
(Doc. 49-15 at 25-27). During this time, Moore was about
thirty feet away with his back to Silcox's cell. (Doc.
49-15 at 20, 37). Because Moore left the officer station,
Detention Officer Tiffany Riley, who was working in the
adjacent female dorm, occupied the F-max officer station to
ensure Moore's safety. (Docs. 49-15 at 32- 33; 49-16 at
and Riley's recollections of the events differ. Moore
testified that after canteen distribution in the F-max, he
accompanied the civilian to another dorm for canteen
distribution, then used the restroom, and finally returned to
the officer station. (Doc. 49-15 at 44). His log states that
the civilian left the F-max at 7:41 p.m. (Doc. 40-8 at 2).
Moore recalled working on paperwork in the F-max officer
station when Sergeant Melvin Sheppard, a jail supervisor,
arrived. (Doc. 49-15 at 51). When Sheppard arrived, he and
Moore both noticed on the monitor that Silcox was not moving.
(Docs. 49-15 at 54-56; 40-6 at 3). Moore went to Silcox's
cell and found him hanging by his bedsheet, which was tied to
the top bunk. (Doc. 49-15 at 105-06).
Riley claims that immediately following the F-max canteen
distribution, she accompanied the civilian back to the female
dorm for canteen distribution. (Doc. 49-16 at 16). According
to Riley's deposition testimony,  her log states that the
civilian entered the female dorm to distribute canteen at
7:47 p.m. (Doc. 49-16 at 66). Riley stated that while she was
distributing canteen with the civilian in the female dorm,
Moore yelled to her that one of the F-max inmates had hung
himself. (Doc. 49-16 at 11-13). At that time, she stopped
canteen and went to assist Moore, which she noted in her log
as being around 8:20 p.m. (Doc. 49-16 at 66, 109-11).
subsequent investigation by FDLE investigators revealed that
Silcox initiated his suicide at 7:25 p.m., and he adjusted
the bedsheet twice before ceasing all movement on his third
attempt at 7:33 p.m. (Doc. 40-7 at 2). No. officer entered
the room until 8:11 p.m. (Doc. 40-7 at 2). Officers performed
CPR on Silcox for fourteen minutes until emergency medical
services arrived. (Doc. 40-7 at 2). At 8:26 p.m., Silcox was
pronounced dead. (Doc. 40-7 at 2).
Columbia County Jail Policies and Training
F-max had a Post Order, (Doc. 40-16), which was in a binder
in the officer station, and each officer working that post
was expected to know and abide by its contents. (Doc. 49-15
at 98-99). The F-max Post Order required formal counts of the
inmates at 6:00 a.m., 6:00 p.m., and 11:00 p.m., and informal
counts every hour between midnight and 4:00 a.m. (Doc. 40-16
at 3). Other dorms had similar orders pertaining specifically
to those dorms. Additionally, the jail had General Orders
that covered other topics, such as Special Management Inmates
and Mental Health Services. (Doc. 40-13 at 5-10).
Order 19.10, titled “Special Management Inmates,
” provides instructions for handling inmates on suicide
watch and states: “Direct observation shall be required
for any inmate restrained to protect themselves [sic] or
others from harm or when ordered by the health authority or
designee.” (Doc. 40-13 at 6). The Order further states:
“Any inmate who threatens verbally or by note, or
attempts suicide is placed on suicide prevention. A mental
health or medical physician may recommend that an inmate be
placed on suicide prevention after an interview with said
inmate.” (Doc. 40-13 at 6). An inmate on suicide watch
is not allowed to have bedding in his cell. (Doc. 40-13 at
7). Additionally, General Order 19.17, titled “Mental
Health Services, ” provides “guidelines for the
provision of necessary and adequate psychiatric care and
services at the Columbia County Detention Facility.”
(Doc. 40-13 at 9). The policy requires officers to notify
medical personnel if they observe certain listed behaviors.
(Doc. 40-13 at 9). In addition, officers are to “ensure
that all items that could be used by the inmate to inflict
self-harm are taken away from the inmate, the cell area and
the holding area.” (Doc. 40-13 at 9).
also states that he had an unwritten policy of having
arrestees who exhibited signs of suicidal tendencies or
ideation cleared by psychiatric professionals at Meridian
prior to being transported to the jail. (Doc. 46 at 15).
Riley stated that at least once a year officers had refresher
training on dealing with mental illness. (Doc. 49-16 at
90-91). Moore stated that he received training on how to
supervise high risk inmates, but not on identifying suicidal
inmates or suicide attempts. (Doc. 49-15 at 10-11).
December 6, 2016, Plaintiff filed his original complaint,
(Doc. 1), and on July 5, 2017, filed the Amended Complaint,
(Doc. 23). The Amended Complaint alleges one count against
Hunter and Moore for violating 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and one
count against Hunter alleging wrongful death under Florida
law. (Doc. 23). Moore settled with Plaintiff at mediation,
(Doc. 29), and was subsequently dismissed from the suit with
prejudice, (Doc. 32). On January 8, 2018, Hunter filed his
amended answer and affirmative defenses. (Doc. 35). On
January 12, 2018, Hunter filed a Daubert motion to
exclude Plaintiff's expert Jeff Eiser, (Doc. 39), and a
motion for summary judgment, (Doc. 40). On that same date,
Plaintiff filed a motion for partial summary judgment,
seeking to exclude several of Hunter's affirmative
defenses. (Doc. 41). On January 16, 2018, Hunter, filed his
Amended Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 46).
Plaintiff's § 1983 claim
person who, under color of [law] . . ., subjects, or causes
to be subjected, any citizen . . . to the deprivation of any
rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution
and laws, shall be liable to the party injured . . . .”
42 U.S.C. § 1983 (2012). Thus, a plaintiff asserting a
claim under § 1983 must demonstrate that (1) a person,
(2) acting under the color of law, (3) violated his
constitutional rights. Id. There is no dispute that
the Sheriff and his employees were acting under the color of
law, thus, only the first and third elements are at issue.
sheriff sued in his official capacity is effectively an
action against the governmental entity the sheriff
represents, in this case Columbia County. Cook ex rel.
Estate of Tessier v. Sheriff of Monroe Cty., 402 F.3d
1092, 1115 (11th Cir. 2005). A municipality, such as Columbia
County, is considered a person under § 1983, but its
liability is limited to situations where a municipal policy
caused the deprivation of rights. Monell v. Dep't of
Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978) (holding that a
municipality cannot be held vicariously liable under §
1983); see City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378,
385 (1989). A municipal policy can be in the form of: (1) a
written policy; (2) a custom, which is “a practice so
settled and permanent that it takes on the force of the
law[;]” (3) a decision by someone with final decision
making authority; or (4) a policy of inadequate training or
supervision, all of which must cause the alleged deprivation
of constitutional rights. McDowell v. Brown, 392
F.3d 1283, 1290 (11th Cir. 2004).
alleges that Hunter had a policy of failing to protect
pretrial detainees from self-harm, (Doc. 23 ¶ 39);
Hunter did not create, implement, and enforce policies to
prevent suicides, (Doc. 23 ¶ 40); and Hunter did not
adequately train jail staff to identify and monitor suicidal
inmates or to recognize and prevent suicide attempts, (Doc.
23 ¶ 40).
Hunter's policies for handling high risk
alleges that Hunter had a policy of failing to protect
detainees. (Doc. 23 ¶ 39). In support, Plaintiff
identifies a prior suicide in the jail and argues that for
both suicides, Hunter found that no one violated any prison
policy-which accentuates the need for better policies. (Doc.
49 at 7). Plaintiff's claim fails.
establish Hunter's liability based on a municipal policy,
Plaintiff must show that he suffered a constitutional
deprivation as a result of Hunter's policy, or a
“practice or custom that is so pervasive, as to be the
functional equivalent of a policy . . . .” Goodman
v. Kimbrough, 718 F.3d 1325, 1335 (11th Cir. 2013)
(quotation marks omitted) (quoting Hale v. Tallapoosa
Cty., 50 F.3d 1579, 1582 (11th Cir. 1995)). For a stated
policy to be unconstitutional, it must result in deliberate
indifference to constitutional violations. Id. Thus,
Plaintiff must establish that Hunter's policies were
facially unconstitutional or that despite having a facially
valid policy, it was custom to ignore it. See
McDowell, 392 F.3d at 1290.
Plaintiff fails to show that Hunter's policies or customs
were unconstitutional. Hunter had policies in place to
protect detainees who were at risk of suicide. General Order
19.10 provides instructions to officers for handling
“special management inmates, ” including those
with suicidal tendencies or ideations. (Doc. 40-13 at 5).
General Order 19.17 instructs officers on how to handle
inmates with mental health issues. (Doc. 40-13 at 9-10).
Additionally, Hunter had an informal policy of having
arrestees like Silcox evaluated by psychiatric professionals
before being taken to the jail-which is exactly what happened
here. (Doc. 40-13 at 2). These policies obviate
Plaintiff's arguments that Hunter had a policy of failing
to protect pretrial detainees from self-harm, (Doc. 23 ¶
39), and that Hunter did not create, implement, and enforce
policies to prevent suicides, (Doc. 23 ¶ 40).
has also not shown how these policies could have caused
Silcox's death. See Harris, 489 U.S. at 385
(explaining that there must be a direct causal link between
the municipal policy and the alleged constitutional
deprivation). Hunter's policies for handling suicidal
detainees were never triggered for Silcox because the medical
professionals who evaluated him never expressly classified
him as high risk. (Docs. 46 at 21; 40-4 at 1; 40-5 at 3-4).
Dr. Bachus wrote that Silcox was stable enough for jail,
(Doc. 40-4 at 1), and Nurse Nichola recommended that Silcox
be placed in general population, (Doc. 40-5 at 3-4). Just
because Hunter's policies did not prevent Silcox's
suicide does not mean that they caused it. See Cook,
402 F.3d at 1116 (stating there must be a causal link between
the policy and the alleged deprivation of rights); see
also Harris, 489 U.S. at 386 (explaining that an
unconstitutional or negligent application of an otherwise
valid policy, without more, is insufficient to hold a
case might have been different had Silcox not been seen at
Meridian. Silcox was arrested because Hosford called Columbia
County dispatch to alert them to Silcox's potential
suicide attempt. (Doc. 40-1 at 1-2). And after he had been
taken into custody, Hosford called the jail to remind them
that Silcox needed to be closely watched because she believed
he was suicidal. (Doc. 49-13 at 99). However, between
Hosford's warnings and Silcox's placement in the
jail, Silcox was evaluated by several medical professionals,
none of whom declared him a suicide risk. (Docs. 40-4 at 1,
40-5 at 2-5). Hunter relied on the opinions of medical
professionals that Silcox was no longer “imminently a
danger to himself or others[, ]” (Doc. 46 at 21
(quotations omitted) (quoting Bachus's deposition at
29)), and, thus, placed Silcox in general population as
opposed to suicide watch.
reliance on medical opinions-even if those opinions were not
fully understood-does not constitute deliberate indifference
to Silcox's constitutional rights. See Keith v.
DeKalb Cty., 749 F.3d 1034, 1050 (11th Cir. 2014)
(“A sheriff cannot be held liable for failing to
segregate mental health inmates whom trained medical
personnel have concluded do not present a risk of harm to
themselves or others.”). Plaintiff argues that Bachus
never said that Silcox was no longer a suicide risk, and in
fact believed he was a suicide risk. (Doc. 49 at 8-10).
However, Bachus never said this to any of Hunter's
employees, (Doc. 49-17 at 44), and such assessment is not
clear from Bachus's discharge note, (Doc. 40-4 at 1).
Moreover, Hunter reasonably believed that Bachus would not
have discharged Silcox from Meridian if he posed a risk to
himself, (Doc. 46 at 21); and even assuming,
arguendo, that such belief was negligent, it is
nonetheless insufficient to establish deliberate
indifference. See Harris, 489 U.S. at 388 n.7,
388-91 (explaining that the standard for deliberate
indifference is not based on the negligence of an employee
but the training program as a whole in relation to the duties
of the individual officers); Keith, 749 F.3d at 1053
(“[T]he deliberate indifference standard requires a
showing of more than gross negligence.”).
liable, Hunter must have had “knowledge of ‘a
strong likelihood rather than a mere possibility
that the self-infliction of harm [would] occur.'”
Cook, 402 F.3d at 1116 (quoting Cagle v.
Sutherland, 334 F.3d 980, 986 (11th Cir. 2003)). But, in
the three days leading up to his death, Silcox displayed no
warning signs that he was contemplating suicide. In fact,
Silcox affirmed on his booking medical questionnaire that he
was not contemplating suicide, (Doc. 40-5 at 1), whereas on
previous visits to the jail he had informed jail staff that
he had attempted suicide or felt like attempting suicide at
that time, (Doc. 49-2 at 1). Moreover, Hunter had information
indicating that some of Silcox's prior suicide attempts
may not have been genuine. (Docs. 40-2 at 4; 49-17 at 50-51).
Silcox told his arresting officers “that he took a
handful of his prescription medication, Seroquil, [sic] and
several aspirin[, ]” (Doc. 40-1 at 2), and the
emergency room nurse and physician that “he took a
bottle of [aspirin] and about 6 Somas[, ]” (Doc. 40-2
at 1-2). However, his toxicology tests did not detect
abnormal aspirin levels, and his drug screen only yielded
positive results for amphetamines, methamphetamines, and THC.
(Doc. 40-2 at 4). Additionally, Bachus opined that at least
one of Silcox's prior “suicide attempts” was
likely just a ploy to avoid going to jail. (Doc. 49-17 at
50-51). On these facts, and as a matter ...