Friday, August 14, 2020
Aug. 14, 2020

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Suicide in jail spurs lawsuit against county

Gross negligence alleged by lawyer for man's estate


An attorney representing the estate and parents of a man who died of an intentional overdose in the Clark County Jail announced in an e-mail Tuesday that he has filed a lawsuit against Clark County, Florida-based Wexford Health Sources, Inc., and Sheriff Garry Lucas, among others,

The suit alleges “medical staff consistently failed to provide … adequate mental health care or custodial supervision, which ultimately resulted in his death.”

On behalf of the estate of Vuong Tran, 43, a jail inmate who died of an apparent Prozac overdose last year, David Meyer filed a suit asking for unspecified compensatory and punitive damages for “the tragic and neglectful death of Tran,” according to the lawsuit.

Tran’s parents, Phi Thi Nguyen and Vy Viet Tran, are also listed as plaintiffs in the suit, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, alleging that “malicious, wanton and oppressive conduct” contributed to their son’s death.

Meyer filed a $1.75 million tort claim on behalf of Tran’s estate and parents in January.

“There’s a substantial amount of egregious content involved in the situation,” said Meyer, a Portland attorney.

Tran was apparently not on suicide watch when he died June 18, despite a treatment summary from doctors at Western State Hospital in Tacoma that stated, “Risks: Suicidal,” according to the lawsuit. Tran, who was deemed incompetent to stand trial, had done two previous stints in the jail on the same charge of malicious mischief against his former business partner and was placed on suicide watch both times, the suit alleges.

Tran allegedly put household cleaner in his former business partner’s koi pond, but had not yet been convicted. A U.S. citizen born in Vietnam in 1965, Tran had no prior criminal record in Washington.

The suit also names Undersheriff Joe Dunegan, who oversees the jail, Jackie Batties, a chief deputy at the jail, and county administrator Bill Barron as defendants, among others.

The lawsuit alleges the defendants were “deliberately indifferent” or “grossly negligent” about Tran’s mental health needs, in violation of his civil rights.

Attempts to reach attorney Gene Pearce in the Clark County Prosecutor’s Office and Jennifer Lloynd, an attorney with Seattle-based Mullin Law Group, the firm representing Wexford, were unsuccessful.