A man who tried to kill himself in the Pierce County Jail contends in a recently filed federal lawsuit that jail employees were responsible because they withheld his mental-health medications.
Leldon Roy Ovechka, 35, seeks unspecified damages from the county and several of its employees for alleged negligence and denial of medical care.
“These damages are not limited to physical injuries, emotional and mental distress, humiliation, embarrassment, reduction in the ability to enjoy life, pain and suffering, out of pocket expenses, including attorneys’ fees and costs, and lost wages,” the lawsuit states.
Seattle attorneys Harvey Williams IV, Kenneth Chang and Zachary Jarvis filed the lawsuit on Ovechka’s behalf last week in U.S. District Court in Tacoma.
Sheriff Paul Pastor, who oversees the jail, said Ovechka’s case illustrates how inadequate state funding for mental health services creates dangerous situations in county lockups.
“The state has failed to adequately fund mental health services,” the sheriff said. “This poses an enormous challenge to us until the situation is corrected. Jails are not meant to be mental-health institutions.
“In this incident, the inmate attempted suicide, but we saved him.”
Ovechka, formerly known as Leldon Pittman, hanged himself with a bedsheet Sept. 3, 2012, while awaiting trial on a charge of attempting to elude police.
His cellmate saw what was happening and alerted a jailer, who intervened in time to save Ovechka, court records show.
Ovechka was hospitalized after the suicide attempt, and his “injuries and pain continue to this day,” his lawyers wrote.
Ovechka contends in his lawsuit he wouldn’t have tried to kill himself had jail staff members provided him with medications and other help for mental illnesses, including post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, psychosis and depression.
“Without medication, he suffers serious psychological issues, has difficulty controlling his behavior and is a danger to himself,” his lawsuit states.
Jail staff members knew or should have known of Ovechka’s illness from his medical records, his requests for help and a court-ordered referral to Western State Hospital as part of his criminal case, according to the suit.
A state psychologist who examined Ovechka in spring 2012 reported that “at the current time, no symptoms of a mental disorder were evident,” court records show.
Ovechka’s attorneys contend in the lawsuit that their client’s symptoms flared up after his evaluation at Western State and that jail staff members declined to provide him his medications.
They cite several exchanges between Ovechka and jail staff members, including an Aug. 17, 2012, notation written by a jail employee.
“Per chart review, you did not cooperate with the interview/assessment so meds were not reordered,” the notation shows.
Ovechka denies he failed to cooperate, according to the lawsuit.
“The suicide attempt was the culmination of weeks of sleeplessness and a lack of substantive responses to his requests for medication,” the lawsuit states.