INDIANAPOLIS – A new wrongful death lawsuit filed against the Marion County Sheriff’s Office alleges jail staff failed to adequately protect a father of five children.
Shane Miles died by suicide on Sept. 2, 2016, in a holding cell at the Indianapolis City-County Building while awaiting a hearing on a drug possession charge.
Miles had attempted suicide in the days before his death, according to a federal lawsuit filed February 10, and was suffering from depression and heroin and alcohol withdrawal.
Miles' widow, Erica Miles, said her husband was a very happy person until he went to jail.
“He was a good guy, he was a sweet guy,” Erica said. “He had never been a violent person. Not everybody that goes to jail is a bad person, and just because somebody goes to jail doesn’t meant they deserve to die.”
Erica Miles’ attorney, Indianapolis-based Eric Pavlack, said the jail staff failed to monitor Shane Miles.
“They left him alone and gave him the time and the tools he needed to hang himself, and that’s what he did while he was on suicide watch,” Pavlack said. “That is a breach of the suicide watch policy that says they’re not supposed to give them those tools. They’re supposed to monitor them so they cannot commit these acts that they know they want to do.”
Pavlack said the community should be concerned by what’s happening at the jail.
“Our tax dollars are supposed to both protect the public, and when someone is incarcerated, they’re supposed to make sure someone has the care they need during a difficult time,” said Pavlack. “They still deserve to be treated like human beings. That’s not happening.”
Miles’ children are 4, 6 and 9 years old.
“They are upset and don’t understand why their dad is not coming back to see them anymore,” Erica said.
Erica said she wanted to file suit to prevent others from dying inside the jail.
“I just hope another person doesn’t have to die there, really,” Erica said. “It seems like something’s not right there. They need to fix it.”
The Marion County Sheriff’s Office has not yet responded to a request for comment on the lawsuit.
In June 2016, just three months before Shane's death, Marion County Sheriff John Layton declared a “zero tolerance” initiative to prevent jail suicides following an increase in deaths.
The initiative focuses on prevention, surveillance and intervention, as well as the designation of a jail suicide prevention coordinator.
Pavlack filed similar wrongful death lawsuits against the Marion County jail in December 2015 and January 2016, alleging the jail fails to properly care for its inmates and prevent suicides.
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“It’s not even close to an isolated incident, and it just keeps happening time and time again,” said Pavlack. “The numbers are shocking when you see the statistics on suicides.”
Nine people have committed suicide in Marion County jail facilities since 2014, according to Katie Carlson, a spokesperson for the Marion County Sheriff's Office.
- 2014 - 2
- 2015 - 4
- 2016 - 3
Carlson said the office does not comment on pending litigation. She said the agency has implemented all of the steps Sheriff John Layton vowed to take as part of his "zero tolerance" initiative announced in 2016:
- Designate a jail suicide prevention coordinator
- Institute a suicide prevention hotline within the jail
- Post suicide prevention posters throughout the jail
- Amend inmate handbook and inmate video to specifically address suicide prevention
- Enlist other criminal justice stakeholders, such as the public defender's office
- Enhance suicide prevention in jail and health care staff training