published Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

County sued over suicide at lockup

Suit against Hamilton County
Suit against Hamilton County
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The father of a 15-year-old boy who hanged himself with a bedsheet in the Hamilton County Juvenile Detention Center last year has filed a lawsuit seeking $3.75 million from the county.

In the lawsuit, David Wallace claims center employees failed to follow policy that could have prevented his son’s death.

On June 29, 2010, Austin David Wallace ran away from the Scholze Center, an adolescent treatment facility run by the Council for Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services in North Chattanooga. A city police officer arrested him about midnight that same day for burglarizing a car downtown, according to the Hamilton County Circuit Court complaint.

Austin Wallace was taken to the detention center at 1:29 a.m. on June 30.

Center employees called the Scholze Center to tell them the boy had been admitted. The next day, employees moved him to the “overflow wing” where he stayed with another teen. Wallace stayed alone that day while the other teen went to school, the suit states.

Employees checked on Wallace at 3:40 p.m. and noted “nothing out of the ordinary.” Staff did not check on him again until 5 p.m. when they found he had hanged himself with the sheet. He was dead.

Hamilton County Juvenile Court spokesman Sam Mairs said Austin Wallace’s death was the first suicide in the detention center’s history but could not comment further on a pending lawsuit.

David Wallace, of New Jersey, and Heather Stein, of Knoxville, are listed in the lawsuit as Austin Wallace’s parents. David Wallace declined to comment.

Stein said her son had ongoing mental health and drug abuse problems and had been placed in six different treatment centers, first in Knoxville, then in Chattanooga.

Her son had documented suicide attempts going back years, she said. Every time he was taken to a new treatment center, the facility couldn’t get records from the previous facility.

“It was like starting from scratch again,” she said.

Stein said her former husband filed the suit and that she isn’t interested in the money.

“I don’t feel any amount of money is going to bring my child back,” she said. “Something needs to be addressed, if that’s the only way we’re going to get attention I guess that’s what has to happen.”

She said she finds more fault with Council for Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services officials who, one year later, will not communicate with her or release her son’s records.

Local attorney John C. Cavett filed the suit. In the complaint, he cites detention center policies that require staff to check on residents every 15 minutes for the first six hours and every 30 minutes afterward, policies he said were not adhered to in Wallace’s case.

He also claims that center employees were negligent by not having constant supervision on Wallace when they learned he was undergoing drug and alcohol treatment at the Scholze Center.

County attorneys have 30 days to respond to the complaint, which was filed June 22.

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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johnnyhurst said...

Thing is, someday in the future one of your family members my be an addict or mentally ill. God has a funny way of working things out for people, I'm sure he will work something out for you. Remember this when your words come home to you.

June 29, 2011 at 6:16 a.m.
ceeweed said...

johnnyhurst: Thank you for pointing out that the disease of addiction and mental illness does not discriminate. buge: Your comment celebrating the death of this child shows that you also suffer a grave illness, an illness you may never acknowledge until a tragic event is visited upon you personally.

June 29, 2011 at 8:02 a.m.
riverstronghold said...

Yeah. A grave illness alright. That little spot of evil there on the corner of your mouth.

June 29, 2011 at 8:11 a.m.
bigbearzzz said...

I don’t feel any amount of money is going to bring my child back,” she said. “Something needs to be addressed, if that’s the only way we’re going to get attention I guess that’s what has to happen.”

thats a crap line. Nobody sues just to get a point across. Of course they are after money, unfortunatly today, people sue over everything. I hope something could be done about this. No, your son hung himself. He did it. Not the facility. NObody is to blame but your son. Stop throwing blame around and just work on getting through the grieving process. Yes i know this post seems cold, but enough is enough. Dont use your dead son to try to get rich, pathetic.

June 29, 2011 at 9:46 a.m.
eastridge8 said...

Pretty harsh Buge...hope you never have to go thru what the boy's family is dealing with right now...

June 29, 2011 at 9:56 a.m.
chattyjill said...

If the city and county are going to defund agencies such as Joe Johnson Mental Health, Fortwood Center and Children's Home/Chambliss Center then incidents like these may likely rise. Drug abuse, alcoholism and mental illness are the bulk causes of crime. Juvenile detention centers and especially CADAS need to be better trained, prepared and equipped to deal with suicidal, depressed, violent and dangerous people even if that means getting off your butt and checking on that person every 5 minutes.

When my adult brother was in Hamilton County jail for "assault" after physically detaining his drunk girlfriend from driving, he had to beg and plead to see the nurse to get adequate food and insulin to regulate his Type I diabetes (Juvenile diabetes.) He has to eat regularly, check his blood sugar and takes shots 5 times a day and the jail people denied him a visit to the nurse for more than 30 hours.

All you haters need to remember people are innocent until proven guilty but even guilty people deserve access to life saving and/or basic medical services. This ain't Libya! If my brother had died in Hamilton County jail you better know our family would have sued the sh*t out of the county because that's just plain irresponsible and dumb and mean on the part of the county jail employees.

This is a constantly looming problem that citizens of Hamilton County should be concerned about because nobody should die while detained in lock-up - nobody! The tax-payers of this county, I'm sure, would rather fund agencies like Fortwood, Chambliss Home and AIM center at the full $688,288 level requested for FY2012 as a fiscally responsible way to prevent $3.75 million lawsuits.

June 29, 2011 at 11:59 a.m.
chattyjill said...

...and to prevent tragic deaths - this story is about a 15 year old boy.

June 29, 2011 at 12:02 p.m.
johnnyhurst said...

Sue their ass off, that's the only thing that gets their attention and thus brings about change. If it were my child, you'd better believe I would sue. No amount of money can fill the void in a parents heart that loses a child, but you'd better believe losing that money will change their policies.

June 29, 2011 at 7:38 p.m.
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