Nancy Winkler and Todd Schoenhaus recently filed a lawsuit against Lancaster County, Pa., PrimeCare Medical (the medical care provider for Lancaster County Prison), and a number of Lancaster County Prison guards and medical staff regarding the tragic death of Justin Aichholz. Justin died on July 18, 2020, four days after his 30th birthday, after he hung himself from a ripped bedsheet in his Lancaster County Prison cell.
According to the lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of Justin’s mother, Justin had a history of mental health issues and treatment that prison guards and medical staff were aware of, including multiple suicide attempts—one of which was shortly before his arrest that caused him to be incarcerated in July 2020. The lawsuit alleges a number of missteps on the part of Lancaster County Prison guards and medical staff that show they did not take Justin’s mental health issues seriously, and which contributed to him ultimately taking his own life—a preventable tragedy.For example, Justin spent the first six days of his incarceration on suicide watch, but was taken off the watch without ever seeing a doctor. A social worker made the decision and planned for him to be evaluated three days later, but he instead hung himself just hours later—by ripping a bedsheet and tying it to a protruding sprinkler head in his cell. And, even though guards were to observe Justin at irregular intervals not to exceed 30 minutes after he was taken off suicide watch, guards can be seen on cell block video breezing by his cell without even bothering to look inside of it.
Unfortunately, Justin’s suicide was not an isolated incident. According to public statistics, there were 15 suicides at Lancaster County Prison from 1998 through 2015. Between 2010 and 2015, the inmate suicide rate was at an all-time high—up 450% when compared to the previous 25 years. And, between January 2020 and July 2020, there were between 50 and 100 prisoners on suicide watch each month inside of Lancaster County Prison, and one attempted suicide each month other than March.
The lawsuit alleges Lancaster County, PrimeCare Medical, and Lancaster County Prison guards and medical staff violated Justin’s civil rights by showing a deliberate and reckless indifference to his serious mental health needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The lawsuit also alleges PrimeCare Medical and its medical staff were negligent by not complying with generally accepted medical and mental health treatment standards of care when they treated Justin.
The lawsuit is seeking compensatory damages for Justin’s parents and his estate, as well as punitive damages to punish Lancaster County, PrimeCare Medical, and Lancaster County Prison guards and medical staff and to deter future deliberate indifference toward other inmates.
“Given what we allege the defendants in this case knew about Justin’s medical history, had they provided medical treatment in line with what is considered to be the baseline of care for inmates suffering from mental health issues, Justin would still be alive today,” said Nancy. “That Lancaster County Prison has seen so many inmate suicide attempts over the years, but its guards and medical staff were unable to prevent Justin’s suicide, shows the county has an inmate mental health crisis on its hands that it apparently does not know how to—or does not care to—solve,” added Todd.
Our filing of this lawsuit was covered by LancasterOnline.com.