Wrongful death lawsuit filed against county for inmate's suicide

Published: Jul. 20, 2018 at 10:34 AM CDT
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The estate of a Brown County Jail inmate who died by suicide while out on release has sued the county, the sheriff, and jail health care workers.

The suit filed in the Eastern District of Wisconsin by the Estate of Ruth Freiwald alleges civil rights violations, medical negligence and wrongful death.

Freiwald's eight surviving children are also plaintiffs.

The lawsuit says that Freiwald, a 51-year old Howard woman, had a history of depression, PTSD, mental illness and suicide attempts, but was denied certain medications while in custody.

On Oct. 27, 2016, Freiwald, accused of attempting suicide by vehicle, was sentenced to 45 days in jail for a charge of Cause Injury/Operate While Under the Influence. She had intentionally driven into the path of a semi truck.

The lawsuit states Freiwald was on medications for depression, anxiety, and PTSD to "curb her suicidal tendencies." Those medications were identified as Lisinopril, Clonazepam, Diclofenac, Fluoxetine (Prozac), and Gabapentin.

"Accordingly, the sentencing court expressly ordered that Ms. Freiwald continue to take all prescribed medications as part of her sentence," reads the lawsuit. Online court records confirm that.

Freiwald's medications were seized by the Brown County Sheriff's Office as part of jail policy on controlled substances. Medications like Gabapentin and Clonazepam were withheld from Freiwald.

The lawsuit claims that suicidal thoughts are a symptom of withdrawal from these medications.

Freiwald made requests for those withheld medications while in jail, but received no response, according to the lawsuit.

It also claims that that jail did not identify her as a suicide risk.

On Nov. 2, 2016, Freiwald wrote a suicide note. On that date, she was allowed to leave the jail to attend classes, as was part of her sentence. She intentionally stepped in front of a truck in traffic and died several hours later.

"As a direct result of Defendants’ actions, Ms. Freiwald’s substantive due process rights were violated in that she was subjected to physical pain, severe mental distress, and ultimately, death," reads the lawsuit.

The suit also accuses Sheriff John Gossage and the Jail of failing to adequately train employees to ensure safety and medical well-being of inmates.

The lawsuit demands damages and coverage of costs, as to be determined by a jury.

The Brown County Sheriff's Office says attorneys are reviewing the case.