A corrections officer bet another guard a sandwich that an inmate under their watch would kill herself, a new lawsuit by the deceased woman’s family claims, based on prison surveillance footage.
Janika Edmond, 25, had attempted suicide multiple times in the months before her November 2015 death in Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility in Ypsilanti, Michigan. The lawsuit against the Michigan Department of Corrections and several officers states Edmond received regular medical treatment for mental illness in prison and that corrections officers were aware of her suicidal tendencies.
Michigan Department of Corrections spokesperson Chris Gautz said the department would not comment on ongoing litigation.
Corrections officers would have been aware of Edmond’s suicidal history, the lawsuit claims. She had allegedly attempted suicide before entering prison in February 2013 on assault charges. While in prison, she was under a doctor’s supervision. But approximately halfway into her three-year sentence, she began exhibiting suicidal behavior again. Eight times in 13 months, Edmond either attempted suicide, or requested suicide prevention observation. Less than two months before her death, prison doctors issued a special mental health plan for her, instructing officers to report “any behavior or verbalization of harm to self or others.”
But when Edmond asked officers for a suicide prevention vest on Nov. 2, her calls for help supposedly went unanswered.
Before moving her to a solitary cell, corrections officers temporarily confined her in a shower unit. Surveillance footage, the lawsuit claims, showed Edmond becoming agitated while corrections officers conversed outside. Edmond shouted that she wanted a “bam bam,” a slang term for a suicide prevention vest that are nearly impossible to tear or twist into a noose. Edmond shouted that she should kill herself.
But rather than helping Edmon, the officers placed a bet on whether she would attempt suicide, her family’s lawyers say. The prize was allegedly a Subway sandwich.
“Somebody owes me lunch!” Officer Dianna Callahan allegedly shouted, pumping her fist and gesturing toward the shower where Edmond was locked. She repeated the demand. “Somebody owes me lunch!”
Edmond’s lawyers say Callahan was alluding to a bet with Kory Moore, another officer.
“Upon information and belief, Callahan made a bet with Moore that Edmond would become suicidal,” the lawsuit reads.
Five minutes after Edmond called for a bam bam, choking noises from the bathroom are heard on the surveillance footage, and would have been audible to the corrections officers, the suit claims. The noises continued for four minutes, during which none of the 12 nearby officers supposedly checked on Edmond. Finally, nearly 20 minutes after Edmond first called for help, an officer entered the shower to find her hanging from her bra. She was taken to a nearby hospital where she was pronounced brain dead.
When her mother came to visit her at the prison less than an hour later as part of a routine visit, corrections officers allegedly said Edmond was not accepting visitors, and did not inform Edmond’s mother that she had attempted suicide. Edmond’s family did not learn the truth until the next day, lawyers say. Edmond was taken off life support and pronounced dead the following week.
Gautz defended the prison’s decision not to inform Edmond’s family of her hospitalization earlier.
“In this case, the prisoner had chosen not to list her biological family in her emergency contacts,” Gautz told The Daily Beast. “We respected her wishes.”
But David Steingold, the family’s lawyer told MLive.com that Edmond’s behavior suggested she needed special care while in the facility. Edmond’s repeated suicide attempts “suggests that somebody along the way should have said this woman needs some tender love and care and some serious counseling more than being locked up,” he said.
Following Edmond’s death, the Michigan Department of Corrections fired Callahan and Moore, but Moore won her way back into the department.
“She fought [termination] successfully with her union through arbitration,” Gautz said, adding that the department was “forced” to rehire her. Callahan, meanwhile, is facing criminal charges for involuntary manslaughter and willful neglect of duty in Edmond’s death.
Callahan killed Edmonds as a result of “the negligent omission by said defendant to perform a legal duty,” a criminal complaint December 16 reads.
Callahan’s defense lawyer told The Daily Beast he was aware of the new lawsuit, but that she had yet to be served. Neither the Michigan State Police nor the local medical examiner responded to requests for comment.
But Edmond’s lawyers say the Department of Corrections is also guilty of wilful neglect in the days after her day. Following the death of an inmate, the Michigan Department of Corrections is required to file a report with the Michigan State Police. Instead, Edmond’s lawyers allege, police only learned of Edmond’s death when a bewildered medical examiner contacted them, complaining that the prison had declined to give him enough information on Edmond to conduct an autopsy.
The examiner “wanted to know who from the MSP was conducting the investigation,” the suit says.
No one was conducting the investigation, Edmond’s lawyers say. The corrections officers
responsible for Edmond’s safety collected on their bet, then let the case go quiet. If not for the surveillance footage, Edmond’s final words might have gone ignored forever.