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ACLU drops suit alleging Pierce County inmates were denied mental health care, illegally restrained

The American Civil Liberties Union has dropped a lawsuit that alleged inmates at the Pierce County Jail were denied basic mental health treatment.

The class action in U.S. District Court in Tacoma contended that inmates are improperly screened for mental health issues, see delays in getting medications, wait months to see a mental health provider in person and at times are illegally restrained.

Magistrate Judge David Christel found earlier this month that the plaintiffs hadn’t met the requirements to qualify as a class — a group of people acknowledged as the plaintiffs in a lawsuit, as opposed to an individual.

In light of that decision, the ACLU of Washington said, it recently agreed to drop the suit.

“People who are experiencing mental illness while incarcerated should get the treatment they need,” ACLU attorney Eunice Cho said in a statement Monday. “While this particular case will not go forward, we continue to be deeply concerned by the conditions faced by people with mental illness in the Pierce County Jail.”

County spokeswoman Libby Catalinich confirmed that the ACLU voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit after the judge found there was insufficient information to certify a class.

Christel wrote Oct. 15 that the plaintiffs hadn’t given sufficient evidence about how many inmates with mental illness are incarcerated or will be incarcerated at the jail.

And he wrote: “Evidence of the Jail’s policies and practices show inmates are screened when they enter the Jail and are provided additional treatment as necessary. Further, after booking, assessments are used to determine if an inmate has a mental health issue.

“Based on the allegations and evidence, Plaintiffs have not shown a systemic application of policies and practices during the screening process expose the proposed class members to a substantial risk of serious harm.”

The ACLU sued in December on behalf of inmates Donald Bango and Scott Bailey, arguing that the mental health care they received at the jail was inadequate and violated their constitutional rights.

Both men since have been sentenced and moved from the jail to state Department of Corrections facilities to serve their prison time.

Bango, 41, is serving 21 years, eight months for a fatal shooting. He killed 33-year-old Jeffrey Shaw during a heroin deal in December 2015. Bailey, 46, is serving a year and several months for drug possession.

Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268, @amkrell
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