The parents of a woman who committed suicide in 2013 while in custody at the Baltimore County Detention Center have filed a $15 million wrongful death lawsuit, alleging staffers ignored their daughter’s unstable mental condition and placed her in solitary confinement instead of providing her with necessary treatment.
Correctional staff confined Ashleigh Gelin, who suffered from bipolar disorder, in a jail cell where she was not regularly monitored even though she had expressed concern about the lack of psychiatric medication she had received while incarcerated and had been referred for a mental health evaluation, according to the suit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore on Friday.
“This has been a horrible tragedy for the family,” said Steven R. Freeman of Freeman Rauch LLC in Towson, who is representing the plaintiffs along with colleague Lee B. Rauch. “They had expected that she would be safe and secure in the Baltimore County Detention Center and that something like this couldn’t happen.”
Ellen Kobler, a spokeswoman for Baltimore County, said on Monday that the county would not comment on pending litigation.
On Nov. 4, 2013, ten days before she died, Gelin was admitted to the detention center to begin serving a one-year sentence on theft charges, according to the suit, which was filed on behalf of Deborah and Edward Gelin. During the intake process, a nurse on the correctional staff conducted a medical screening and reported that Gelin had a history of mental illness and that she had previously been hospitalized and treated with medication for bipolar disorder.
Gelin was then referred for an additional health assessment due to her opioid and benzodiazepine addiction, the suit states. Another member of the detention center’s medical staff placed Gelin on detox protocol after that assessment and referred Gelin to a mental health screening.
Gelin did not receive that screening until Nov. 11, more than six days after she was referred, the suit states. Under Department of Corrections policy, inmates who are referred for a mental health screening must receive one within 72 hours or be placed on special observation status, which Gelin was not, according to the suit.
The staff member who conducted Gelin’s mental health evaluation found she was taking three daily medications to manage her mental health but had not received any doses during her time at the detention center, the complaint states. But the staffer did not refer her to receive any additional mental health treatment, according to the suit.
The next day, Gelin received medical treatment after an altercation with two other inmates, the suit states. On Nov. 14, she was reportedly crying, screaming and complaining of hearing other inmates yelling her name, and a member of the detention center’s mental health staff scheduled her for an appointment with a psychiatrist four days later, the suit states.
But a correctional officer found Gelin that night dead in her cell with a sheet around her neck that had been tied to a vent in the ceiling.
In the two hours before Gelin’s suicide was discovered, staffers had not conducted inmate checks or rounds, the complaint states.
“We have been told that a number of the female inmates who were near her were crying out and banging on walls to get correctional officers’ attention, and no one responded,” Freeman said.
The lawsuit, which alleges wrongful death, negligence and violations of the Maryland Declaration of Rights, among other counts, seeks $5 million in compensatory damages and $10 million in punitive damages.
“The actions of the BCDC staff in confining Ms. Gelin alone in an unmonitored jell cell with ready access to the means to take her life while not providing her with the necessary medical and mental health treatment and/or medication while incarcerated constituted deliberate, reckless and conscious indifference and disregard for Ms. Gelin’s life, safety and serious medical needs,” the complaint states.
The case is Deborah and Edward Gelin v. Baltimore County et al., 1:16-cv-03694-GLR.