Grandmother of inmate who committed suicide files suit
Complaint says state showed ‘deliberate indifference’ to medical needs of inmate
GUNNISON—A woman whose mentally ill grandson committed suicide at the Central Utah Correction Facility (CUCF) in 2014 is suing the Utah Department of Corrections, some its top administrators and several juvenile detention facilities alleging they are responsible for the chain of events that lead to him taking his life.
Janet Crane, grandmother of Brock Tucker, the deceased, through her attorneys Ross Anderson and Janet Conway, filed the civil rights suit on Thursday, Oct. 3 in 3rd District Court.
Crane says CUCF “failed to adequately treat its mentally ill inmates, including Brock, and failed to recognize suicide risk and properly train officers to prevent suicide.”
She also claims state agencies and institutions showed “deliberate indifference to serious medical needs, health and safety” of her grandson since he first entered the justice system at 13.
Besides naming the Department of Corrections, the suit names Alfred “Chuck” Bigelow, CUCF warden; juvenile detention facilities where Tucker was held; and various juvenile and adult facility administrators and staff.
Crane, who was once Tucker’s legal guardian due to his parents being deemed unfit by the Utah Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS), says in the lawsuit, “Since birth, Brock was a victim of neglect, physical abuse, psychological abuse, and, ultimately, torture, leading Brock to commit suicide to escape his continuing tragedy.”
Crane says Tucker had a near-fatal drowning accident at the age of 2, which left him with brain damage. When he was 11 years old, he began having behavioral issues, so Crane took him to see Dr. David E. Nilsson, a board-certified in clinical neuropsychology who specializes in the treatment of neurodevelopmental and neurobehavioral disorders resulting from brain injuries.
Nilsson diagnosed Tucker with brain damage, an IQ of 70 and an impulse control disorder. Dr. Nilsson said that Tucker’s impulse control disorder caused him to be unduly impressionable and susceptible to negative outside influences.
Crane says in her lawsuit that in 2007, she and Tucker moved to a gang-infested neighborhood, and, although Tucker wanted nothing to do with the gangs, they physically coerced him into joining one.
Crane admits in the complaint that it wasn’t long before Tucker began getting in trouble for non-violent offenses, including stealing automobiles.
On March 7, 2008, DCFS took custody of Tucker and placed him in a detention center run by the Utah Division of Juvenile Justice Services (JJS). During his stay there, Tucker’s mental condition deteriorated quickly, he began self-mutilation and became suicidal.
On May 15, 2008, Tucker was transferred to Future Through Choices, a 501c3 nonprofit organization that incarcerates juveniles for Utah. The lawsuit alleges Tucker was only there 48 hours before being physically assaulted by a staff member.
The state Office of Child Protection, part of DCFS, substantiated the assault but, the lawsuit alleges, took no action, and Tucker ran away from the facility.
According to the lawsuit, after Tucker ran from Future Through Choices, Dr. Nilsson advised the court by letters and personal appearances that Tucker had brain damage and needed to be treated in consultation with a neuropsychologist.
Nilsson insisted that any facility that employed a traditional punishment and reward system alone, without adjusting to Tucker’s medical needs, could not help Tucker and would only make things worse for him.
According to Crane’s lawsuit, DCFS was court-ordered to work with Dr. Nilsson for Tucker’s treatment but refused and instead transferred him to a facility hundreds of miles from Tucker’s family and Dr. Nilsson.
It took nearly a year to get Tucker transferred to a facility that was supposed to provide the mental health treatment he needed.
But in the new facility, the Provo Canyon School, Tucker was beaten by the staff multiple times, according to the lawsuit. On one occasion, the complaint claims Tucker had his head beaten into the concrete until he was unconscious.
Crane claims the Utah Office of Child Protection substantiated at least two instances of the abuse at Provo Canyon School, but according to the lawsuit, once again, DCFS took no action to protect Tucker.
In June 2009, due to DCFS’s failure to protect or remove him from Provo Canyon School, Tucker attempted suicide.
Over the next few years, Tucker spent more time in facilities than out of them, Crane says.
In March 2012, Tucker was charged with auto theft and tried as an adult. The lawsuit claims Dr. Nilsson and Crane fought to prevent Tucker from going to prison because they believed prison would be extremely damaging to him. Their efforts were for naught.
On Sept. 5, 2012, at age 17, a mere 5-foot 6-inches and weighing only 140-pounds, Tucker was sentenced to 2-5 years in prison. The soonest possible parole date was Dec. 1, 2014.
He was first sent to the Utah State Prison in Draper but was transferred to CUCF in Gunnison a few months later.
In February 2013, CUCF staff sentenced Tucker to punitive isolation for disciplinary reasons, during which time the lawsuit claims he was kept alone in a cell and only released one hour every other day, which was his only opportunity to take a shower.
The punitive isolation denied Tucker access to recreation, exercise equipment and the library; denied any visitation; denied any phone calls; and denied commissary, which the lawsuit claims prevented him from being able to buy materials to communicate with family and friends through letters.
Tucker spent 154 days of his last year in isolation at CUCF for various infractions, according to claims in Crane’s lawsuit.
While in prison, Tucker was diagnosed by Dr. Bruce Burnham, a CUCF physician, as having unspecified psychosis and major depressive disorder, and was ordered to undergo outpatient mental health treatment.
According to the lawsuit, a CUCF policy says when an offender in outpatient treatment is considered for disciplinary action, the psychiatrist and mental health staff must provide information to the disciplinary hearing officer on whether the behavior was due to mental illness.
The lawsuit claims that the CUCF staff did not follow the policy with Tucker. No consideration was given to whether his conduct was due to mental illness or whether multiple periods of punitive isolation would exacerbate Tucker’s mental illness or interfere with his treatment program.
“At the time Brock was held in punitive isolation,” the lawsuit says, “it was widely known, across the nation and around the world that holding a person in solitary confinement can be expected to cause, or seriously exacerbate, mental illness, deep depression, crushing loneliness and the risk of suicide.”
According to the lawsuit, on Oct. 2, 2014, a correctional officer argued with Tucker through his cell door. Some time after, the same officer was reportedly seen entering Tucker’s cell by himself.
That was the last time Tucker was seen alive.
Tucker was provided with a top bunk bed, sheets and towels in his isolation cell, thereby giving him the means to commit suicide, the lawsuit says.
“After two years of being subjected to repeated periods of tortuous solitary confinement, including more than 154 days of the last year of Brock’s life, and the prison warden’s and staff’s deliberate indifference to Brock’s serious and well-documented brain damage and mental illness, Brock succumbed to the nightmare,” Crane says in her lawsuit.
The day Tucker killed himself, he placed a towel over his cell door window, an action the lawsuit claims was a clear indication he was going to harm himself. The lawsuit says correctional officers ignored the obstructed cell window.
Tucker was discovered dead, hanging from his top bunk at 6:15 p.m. that evening, by an officer distributing medication.
According to the lawsuit, CUCF staff found a note in Tucker’s cell that read, “Send my love to my family and my ex’z! I’m better off gone since I’m already gone! Thanx for nothing!”
Crane is seeking general damages in an amount greater than $300,000 as compensation for the pain and suffering Tucker endured before his death and for the loss of his life.
When contacted, a Department of Corrections representative said the agency would not comment on pending litigation.