The following article was published on Patch on March 14, 2023.
FRANKFORT, IL — An attorney representing the family of a former officer with the Cook County Sheriff’s Department who committed suicide in the Will County Jail last year after being arrested on domestic assault charges has filed a wrongful death suit against the sheriff’s office and jail, claiming that the inmate’s history with mental health issues was not taken into consideration when he was booked into the jail.
Robert Vaughan, 51, was discovered dead in his cell in March 2022, and officials said he took his own life using a bedsheet and a phone booth that was in his holding cell, the lawsuit states.
The Frankfort resident had previously served a prison sentence after the U.S. Attorney’s Office said Vaughan admitted robbing eight drug dealers between 2011 and 2013 and had profited $300,000 from the crimes.
Vaughan was arrested at his home last spring on domestic assault charges, but police had previously visited his home for a well-being check after the lawsuit states that he had said he may hurt himself after previously making threats of self-harm.
Court documents show that police smelled alcohol on Vaughan’s breath when he was arrested, and that he was emotionally hostile and was crying when he was taken into custody. Once in custody at the Frankfort Police Department, Vaughan began panting heavily and his face turned red after he had already slumped over and fallen to the floor, the suit says.
The lawsuit also states that Vaughan informed police officers that he suffered from post-traumatic syndrome disorder. After being treated by first responders from the Mokena Fire Department and refusing to be taken to a local hospital, Vaughan was taken to the Will County Jail, where he was booked.
But the suit, which lists the Will County Sheriff’s Department, the Will County Jail, the Frankfort Police Department, Wellpath, LLC and 10 individuals as defendants, maintains that correctional officers and other jail healthcare workers failed to take Vaughan’s history of mental illness and threats to harm himself into consideration when he was taken into custody.
The suit cites at least two other inmates who took their own lives at the Will County Jail previous to Vaughan’s death, all of which involved the use of telephones and telephone booths that were located in the holding cells. The suit states that Will County settled suits brought on behalf of the detainees and “knew that having telephones and telephone booths in the holding cells ….was extremely dangerous and would allow suicidal pretrial (sic) to utilize the telephone and telephone booths” to take their own lives.
A spokeswoman for the Will County Sheriff’s Office said on Tuesday that the department does not comment on pending litigation.
The suit states that the county had installed video cameras in the holding cells, which allowed jail employees to monitor detainees. However, the suit states that the jail had a lights-out rule at 10 p.m., which the suit states does not allow correctional officers to monitor detainees and prevent them from self-harm.
It states that one correctional officer who is listed as a co-defendant in the suit had monitoring inmates among his job duties to make sure detainees didn’t harm themselves. It also states that the jail employs medical professionals who are required to screen detainees for medical needs and identify any mental or emotional disturbances and determine if detainees are at risk of hurting themselves.
That did not happen in Vaughan’s case, the suit says. According to documents, Vaughan was the only detainee in the holding cell and was given a bedsheet to take with him to the cell. After the lights were turned off, the suit says that a correctional officer looked into Vaughan’s cell but had difficulty seeing inside because of the darkness.
Just before midnight, the suit says that Vaughan was found unresponsive in his cell. He was taken to St. Joseph Medical Center and was pronounced dead at 1:32 a.m.
The suit accuses jail employees of neglect and claims that the names individuals are liable for Vaughan’s death. The complaint seeks more than $50,000 in damages from each of the co-defendants.
The suit is also seeking more than $50,000 in damages from the Will County Sheriff’s Office, alleging willful and wanton liability in the wrongful death of Vaughan. It states that the jail failed to provide a safe environment for Vaughan and denied him mental health treatment and failed to keep him from harming himself, according to documents.
The suit also alleges negligence on the part of the jail, citing the correctional officer’s inability to monitor Vaughan after he was processed while ignoring Vaughan’s medical condition, knowing it necessitated medical care.
The suit claims because of Vaughan’s death, his wife and two children have sustained pecuniary loss, including loss of money, benefits, economic support, love and companionship. It also claims because of the jail’s negligence, Vaughan suffered pain and suffering, disability, disfigurement, and hospital costs and expenses.
Anyone who is struggling can get help by dialing 988 for the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.