Could Philip Markoff’s Suicide Have Been Prevented?

I have been asked , as a former Sheriff, whether anything could have been done to prevent the apparent suicide of accused murderer Philip Markoff. Hindsight is always 20/20 in situations such as these and without knowing all the relevant facts, any related comments should issue with caution. Still, the general answer is "yes" there are certain security measures/options available to corrections personnel for prisoners (detainees and inmates) who present suicide risks. First, Sheriffs, Superintendants and Administrators concerned about the mental health and well-being of a prisoner (and whether or not he presents a serious risk of physical harm to himself or others) may petition the court of current  jurisdiction under MGL Ch. 123 s. 18 (a) to have him sent to Bridgewater State Hospital for up to thirty days for observation, evaluation and treatment.  If further treatment is needed (or if the prisoner is still deemed a serious risk of harm to himself or others), the Sheriff or Superintendent may petition for extended confinement at Bridgewater where the prisoner will remain under psychiatric care and supervision. Second, a Sheriff or Superintendant  may house an at-risk prisoner within their own health care unit where he will be closely monitored and supervised on a 24 hr. basis by health unit personnel, including on-staff psychiatrists. Third, a prisoner may be placed on official "suicide watch" where, in those facilities with such capacity, he can be placed in a cell with 24 hr. video monitoring or in a cell where he will be subject to frequent well-being checks, usually at regular intervals of no more than 10-15 minutes. Because all three options require intensive supervision and resources, and impose internal restrictions on the prisoner, there is an institutional and economic interest  in reversing the prisoners status as soon as the risk of suicide/harm dissipates. Since it is not uncommon for a first time detainee to express suicidal ideation at the outset of his incarceration, changes in mental health status and corresponding levels of supervision are not infrequent—especially where the majority of prisoners want to return to general population, and it is not unusual for an at risk prisoner to try to mask or conceal his related psychosis to facilitate/expedite such placement. On a related note, I have also been asked about institutional liability for jailhouse suicides. Is there liability? The short answer is, there can be. While wrongful death suits involving suicide are amongst the most difficult from a civil plaintiff’s perspective (and in such cases jury sympathy can be tempered when the underlying charges are revealed), proof of misdiagnosis/psychiatric malpractice, lack of adequate psychiatric care, neglect (ignoring obvious signs and symptoms), staff abuse, gross inattention, and/or deliberate neglect/misconduct can, indeed, result in individual, corporate, or municipal liability  and may also give rise to colorable federal claims, as well.

If you have been accused of a crime and you need a to represent you please contact Brad Bailey at 781-589-2828

About the author:

Brad Bailey was a felony prosecutor in Manhattan (NY) and an Assistant District Attorney in Middlesex County (MA), where he prosecuted murders, sex crimes and serious narcotics trafficking cases. He went on to prosecute federal drug crimes and the mafia/organized crime as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Boston. A six time Super Lawyer and Top 100 Trial Attorney, he is AV rated by Martindale and rated "Superb" by Avvo. Brad has been a member of the defense bar since 1999, and uses his vast experience on both sides of the law to defend clients accused of all manner of serious criminal offenses in both state and federal courts throughout, Massachusetts, New York, the greater New England Region, and elsewhere in the United States. He is widely regarded as one of