Lawsuit alleges negligence leading to Madison County inmate’s suicide

By: - November 10, 2021 4:30 pm

(Photo by Getty Images)

Madison County and a community health organization are facing a wrongful death lawsuit over the 2020 suicide of a jail inmate.

The federal lawsuit, which appears to draw heavily from audio and video recordings made at the Madison County Jail, gives a detailed, minute-by-minute account of the alleged events leading up to the suicide of 39-year-old Jordan Payne.

Payne’s family is alleging negligence on the part of the county and Eyerly-Ball Community Health Services.

Before his arrest in June 2020 on a simple-misdemeanor charge of contempt of court, Payne allegedly had a history of mental illness and depression. In February 2015, Payne was involuntarily committed following an allegation of serious mental impairment. On April 20 of that year, while in the custody of the Madison County Sheriff’s Office, he had allegedly attempted suicide by hanging himself with a phone cord around his neck.

Then, in August 2016, he was transported to Madison County Hospital by the sheriff’s office after a suicide attempt in which he cut his wrist with a knife.

Immediately after his June 2020 arrest, Payne was booked into the jail and allegedly answered a series of intake-screening questions to indicate he was suffering from mental illness, had been hospitalized in the last 12 months, had tried in the past to hurt himself, and had tried in the past to kill himself.

Despite that, and despite Payne’s history, the sheriff’s staff allegedly placed Payne in a single cell without taking any suicide prevention measures.

On June 11, two days after being booked into the jail, Payne allegedly began sending a series of text messages to his girlfriend, which the jail staff was capable of monitoring. Payne allegedly wrote:

“Somethings not right in my head and chest im hearing voices that wont stop wtf is wrong with me … I need to talk to eve this is an emergency … just not righr in the head … Im going back to crying and smashing head off wall … Smashing my head off the wall stops voices … my head is telling to rip out my veins with my teeth.”

A jail employee, Linda Barker, told her colleagues at the jail that Payne was texting his girlfriend and saying he was “ready to chew out his veins.”

On June 12, Payne asked the jail staff if he could see a doctor, saying “my head’s not right.” An hour later, he was allowed to meet with Scott Thomas, an Eyerly-Ball employee who has an undergraduate degree in sociology.

During that meeting, which was recorded, Payne allegedly said, “I’m not doing so well, I lost everything, girlfriend, Jeep, house. Going to be homeless … I’ve got these thoughts in my head that are like chew my veins out and, I mean, s— like that … I’ve had seven suicide attempts in the last year.”

After the meeting, Payne was immediately escorted back to his cell. Seven minutes later, allegedly in clear view of the jail’s monitored video surveillance system, Payne tried to fashion a noose out of a blanket and then secure it to the cell door, twice trying to lift himself high enough to get the noose around his neck.

He then removed the blanket from the interior door and entered the shower portion of his cell where he succeeded in hanging himself at 2:05 p.m., nine minutes after his meeting with Thomas had ended.

The lawsuit alleges the jail’s surveillance video includes “audible banging followed by gasping noises that are clearly heard” on the tape.

At 2:14 p.m., a jailer conducted a check of the neighboring cell, but did not check Payne’s cell. About 12 minutes later, that same jailer returned and again checked the neighboring cell without checking on Payne.

One hour and 11 minutes after Payne had hung himself, the jailer allegedly entered Payne’s cell, called his name and received no answer. The jailer left the cell without checking the shower area, but almost immediately returned, opened the shower-area door and found Payne hanging.

The lawsuit claims the conduct of the sheriff’s office “was outrageous and was undertaken with reckless disregard of the probability of Jordan Payne’s death.”

In addition to Madison County and Eyerly-Ball, the defendants in the case are Thomas, Sheriff Jason Barnes and jailer John Weakland. They have yet to file a response to the lawsuit.

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.

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