The mother of an inmate who committed suicide in the Beltrami County Jail three years ago to the day is suing for $6 million in punitive and compensatory damages.
Stephanie Bunker, a mother of four who was reportedly suffering from psychosis at the time of her intake, hanged herself in a general population cell July 1, 2017.
The lawsuit alleges that the Jail nor its contracted medical provider MEnD Correctional Care provided adequate mental health care or suicide prevention before Stephanie’s suicide, and that the defendants, which include Beltrami County correctional officers, MEnD, Beltrami County and others, were deliberately indifferent to Stephanie Bunker’s needs for medical and mental health care, and used forms to give an “illusion of care.”
The plaintiff Carol Bunker’s attorney, Andrew Noel, with Robins Kaplan LLP in Minneapolis, Minn.
Bunker was arrested June 26, 2017, for driving under the influence, driving after revocation and shoplifting. She also had a warrant for her arrest in Hennepin County for felony theft.
Bunker, during intake proceedings, reported that she needed urgent medical attention, that she used alcohol and controlled substances every day, that she believed that someone was controlling her mind, and that she had previously attempted to kill herself two months prior to her incarceration.
The lawsuit claims that the answers Stephanie gave to the Booking Wizard Medical Questions should have made it apparent to correctional staff that she was unpredictable and a danger to herself.
Bunker, according to the allegations, was not issued a suicide smock upon intake, nor was she given the tear-resistant sheets given to inmates on suicide watch. According to the allegations, “none were clean” at the time of her intake.
During a review of the incident, the Minnesota Department of Corrections found that three attempts were made to get Stephanie into a suicide smock and switch out her bedding, but she was allowed to refuse, which was against facility and DOC policies.
“Further, the DOC noted concerns with the lack of communication between medical staff and custody staff. This is a common issue for MEnD and happens by design, as squelching the exchange of information between medical and correctional staff makes it easier for each to disclaim knowledge of, or responsibility for, inmate mental-health problems,” said the suit in paragraph 189.
Bunker was in a holding cell until her move to the jail’s B cell block, which was a day before her suicide.
The civil suit alleges that MEnD’s only doctor at the time, Dr. Todd Leonard, who reportedly served thousands of inmates in the MEnD contract network, did not review Stephanie’s health assessment until nearly a week after she had hanged herself.
The suit also alleges that one MEnD nurse changed the suicide risk assessment score to lower than the required 36 to initiate intervention by a medical provider, a mental health consult or a suicide watch. The nurse completed a second Suicide Risk Screening Form on July 12, after Stephanie’s death, and altered the answers to bring the score down to 28.
MEnD has been the county’s medical provider for the Jail since 2012. Beltrami County Public Health used to provide services but a lack of staffing prompted the contract with MEnD, a for-profit correctional care provider that serves many counties across Minnesota.
According to MEnD’s website, “Since our inception in 2006, we now provide healthcare services for multiple counties in Minnesota. Our track record to date shows significant improvement in measurable outcomes for quality of healthcare delivered, and the bottom line has shown millions of dollars in cost savings for our clients.”