On a Monday afternoon in November of 2015, an inmate in the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility in Ypsilanti, Michigan, expressed to correctional officers that she needed assistance to not take her own life. No one came to her aid. In fact, officers appeared to have placed bets and celebrated her plight. Michigan now owes the woman’s family $860,000 after a settlement agreement was approved last week.
The woman, Janika Edmond of Adrian, Michigan, cried out to staff that she wanted “Bam Bam“—slang for anti-suicide smock—while in a shower area as she waited for an isolated cell. Edmond was well versed in both attempting suicide and attempts to prevent it. The 25-year-old woman was plagued by depressive and mood disorders, having attempted suicide in the past while incarcerated. She had even asked to be put on suicide precaution several months prior to her death.
Despite all of this, her appeal for help, and the fact that she was on mental health outpatient status at the time, correctional officers did nothing to intervene. In fact, according to a civil complaint that was reviewed by The Washington Post, at least one officer “appeared to celebrate” her plea.
Video records maintained by Michigan’s Department of Corrections show prison guard Dianna Callahan exclaiming, “Somebody owes me lunch!” before pumping her fist in the air three times, flashing a thumbs-up and repeating, “Somebody owes me lunch!” after Edmond’s request for the smock.
David Steingold, an attorney for the woman’s family told The Washington Post:
“It’s horrible, horrible, horrible, horrible. It’s a catastrophe that should never have happened if the prison officials had just done their jobs.”
But not only did prison officials not do their jobs, they placed bets on the life of an inmate.
Just after Callahan made the celebratory gesture and mentioned a sandwich, her and another prison employee began discussion her prize—a Subway sandwich. According to Steingold, correctional officers bet whether or not the 25-year-old would become suicidal yet again.
Only minutes later, choking sounds could be heard. As detailed in the complaint, no staff intervened during the several minutes that choking sounds could be heard coming from the shower area where Edmond was being held.
Janika Edmond was found 20 minutes later lying in the shower with a bra around her neck.
After finally checking on Edmond, staff administered CPR and used an external defibrillator. She still had a pulse after paramedics arrived and was transported to ST. Joseph Mercy Hospital—10 minutes away. While there, Edmond’s mother was denied and told that she was unable to have visitors. Shockingly, it took the Michigan Department of Corrections a full 24 hours to inform her family of her suicide attempt.
Four days later Janika Edmond was declared braindead. Five days after that she was pronounced dead. Edmond was scheduled to be released only five months after she took her own life.
According to the complaint, staff failed to “properly treat Edmond’s mental illness and its actions in discriminating against her and punishing her because of it, exacerbated her mental difficulties, including her suicidal ideations, and caused her suicide.”
According to a 2017 study published in the journal Lancet, female inmates are nine times more likely to die by suicide than the general female population.
Dianna Callahan, the prison guard who appeared to celebrate Edmond’s request for help, was suspended following the incident and fired the following March. According to MLive.com, Callahan and Kory Moore, the officer whom Callahan spoke with about a Subway sandwich, “were fired in March 2016 after MDOC’s internal investigation into the death. Moore was reinstated after arbitration, but later left her position.”
Callahan avoided trial last year, pleading no contest to an involuntary manslaughter charge. In February 2017, a federal lawsuit was filed along with a similar suit filed that April in county court.
The final version of the federal suit naming the Michigan Department of Corrections, along with 12 current and former employees as defendants, was filed in June of 2018. The suit sought damages for loss “love, society and companionship” on behalf of Edmond’s family.
Edmond’s aunt, Sheila Clarke, settled the case for $860,000. After fees and other costs are paid, the approximately $550,000 that remains will be split between Edmond’s two siblings.
The money is obviously insufficient for suffering such a loss. Janika Edmond knew she needed help, clearly communicated it, requesting it as needed. Yet that help was denied, her plight was made a mockery of, and, ultimately, she died at the hands of coldhearted prison staff that should have never been tasked with the responsibilities associated with overseeing, and ultimately caring for, inmates.
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