Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Wicomico County faces 2nd lawsuit over prisoner suicides at detention center

A new lawsuit claims that Wicomico County Detention Center staff ignored an incarcerated man’s declining mental health in the days and hours before he died by suicide in October 2018.

It is the second such lawsuit that Wicomico County has faced in just over two years.

Both suits, which are pending in U.S. District Court in Maryland, claim that the incarcerated men who died had been placed in solitary confinement while experiencing mental health problems and suicidal thoughts at the Salisbury detention center.

The latest lawsuit, filed Friday, alleges that detention center staff and medical personnel showed deliberate indifference in their treatment of Wayne D. Davis Jr., who was found hanging in a cell on Oct. 19, 2018.

The complaint claims that correctional officers failed to conduct required welfare checks every 30 minutes in the restrictive housing unit and instead falsified a logbook to make it appear the checks had been completed.

No officers checked on Davis in his cell for about two hours until his mother, Deborah Kline, called to report that he had missed their scheduled phone call. An officer then found Davis hanging from a noose tied to a bar over his cell’s window, according to the complaint.

Kline filed the lawsuit on behalf of Davis’s estate.

Davis, then 23, was facing charges including possession with intent to distribute, assault and burglary when he was arrested on a warrant for failing to appear in court and denied bond in October 2018, according to the complaint.

During a previous incarceration earlier that year, Davis had been placed on suicide watch “after exhibiting signs of sadness and hopelessness,” the complaint alleges. He showed signs of mental health problems when he entered the prison again in October.

Prison officials placed Davis in “segregation housing,” where he was locked-down for 23 hours per day, when he refused to live in the detention center’s general population housing because he believed other prisoners had labeled him a “snitch,” the complaint claims.

On Oct. 19, 2018, none of the correctional officers who were assigned to the disciplinary housing unit where Davis was staying entered the area between 11:10 a.m. and 1:13 p.m., according to the complaint.

One officer initialed a logbook to indicate that he performed two welfare checks during those hours, though surveillance footage shows the checks were not completed, the complaint alleges.

The officer did not check on Davis until Davis’s mother called to request a welfare check. Davis was found hanging from a noose inside his cell and pronounced dead a short time later.

The two-count lawsuit names Wicomico County and several corrections officers. The complaint also indicates that the plaintiffs intend to file claims against Wellpath, the health care contractor at the detention center.

An earlier lawsuit

A 2019 lawsuit made similar claims related to the suicide death of Thomas Gosier in August 2016, when he was 22 years old.

Gosier was being held at the Wicomico County Detention Center on $10,000 bond, according to the complaint, after police arrested him for allegedly stealing $47-worth of Benzedrex nasal spray from a grocery store. When abused, the nasal spray can mimic the high from amphetamines.

Gosier, who suffered from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, repeatedly showed signs of distress during his arrest and booking at the detention center.

While on suicide watch, Gosier tore apart a safety mattress and tried to hang himself using the shredded plastic, the complaint alleges. Several days later, while in disciplinary seclusion, Gosier hanged himself from the top bunk of his cell.

The case is currently scheduled for a settlement conference. In a memorandum opinion filed in September, U.S. District Judge Stephanie A. Gallagher partially granted a motion for summary judgment brought by Wicomico County and Wellpath, the medical contractor.

Gallagher found that the plaintiff — Donna Malone, Gosier’s mother — had not shown that official policies or customs led to a constitutional violation. The judge allowed to proceed claims that Wicocmico County and Wellpath employees may have shown deliberate indifference to Gosier’s medical needs.

“The record reflects that from his first interaction with law enforcement, Mr. Gosier demonstrated serious mental health needs and an acute risk of self-directed violence,” Gallagher wrote.

Her memorandum opinion reveals other facts that came to light during the course of the lawsuit: When Gosier attempted to commit suicide by tearing apart his plastic suicide-watch mattress and fashioning the torn plastic into a noose, an officer who tried to intervene pepper-sprayed Gosier because he would not stop resisting the officer’s efforts.

Gosier was then removed from the suicide-watch cell and strapped to a gurney using a four-point restraint, where he remained for 24 hours. He was allowed up to use the bathroom and move around occasionally, according to evidence presented during the lawsuit.

Wicomico County did not dispute that it has no policy for how long prisoners can remain in four-point restraint, Gallagher wrote.

Two days later, Gosier received a disciplinary hearing for several rule violations, including destroying his mattress, and was ordered to serve 40 days in segregated housing, or lockdown. It was there that Gosier hanged himself several days later.

The Friday before Gosier’s suicide, a Wellpath employee assessed Gosier and did not recommend that he be placed on suicide watch, Gallagher wrote.

On Sunday, Aug. 21, 2016, Gosier covered his cell window with toilet paper in violation of the detention center’s rules. Two corrections officers went to investigate a few minutes later and received no answer when they knocked on Gosier’s cell, but before opening the cell they first performed welfare checks on the other cells in the housing unit.

The officers found Gosier hanging by a bedsheet that was tied to the top bunk. Gosier never regained neurological function and was pronounced dead on Aug. 22, 2016.

Nicholas Bonadio, a lawyer with the Baltimore-based Law Offices of Peter G. Angelos who is representing the plaintiffs in both lawsuits, declined to comment for this story.

Wicomico County Attorney Paul Wilber declined to comment on the cases because they are pending in court.