Hooper Bay to Pay Nearly $1 Million for Death in Jail

A Bethel jury has ordered that the city of Hooper Bay pay close a $1 million to the family of a man that died at the Hooper Bay jail.

The jury found that the City of Hooper Bay was negligent in the death of 22-year-old Louis Bunyan. Judge Charles Ray read the next portion of the jury’s verdict, which came in after 8 pm Tuesday.

“Was the defendant, City of Hooper bay’s negligence a significant factor in causing harm to the plaintiffs? Answer yes or no, Answer: yes.”

The judge polled the jury individually after the verdict and found 11 in agreement, and one juror who was not. The jury said that Bunyan was contributing to his family at the time of his death and they awarded some $960,000 to family members.

Louis Bunyan was found dead in his jail cell early in the morning on July 28, 2011. He was brought into the jail cell only 40 minutes before he was found hanged by the drawstring from his shorts.

Bunyan was first taken to jail after a report that he was intoxicated at his home and trying to fight with his family. The family requested that police take him into Title 47 protective custody while intoxicated.

The events early that morning in holding cell number one led Bunyan’s Mother, Judy Bunyan to file a lawsuit against the city of Hooper Bay seeking damages. Her attorney charged that the city has a duty to screen detainees for the potential of suicide, ensure that they have no items to harm themselves, and to regularly monitor their condition. They say police had a database listing three prior calls in which Bunyan threatened suicide.

Interviews with the police officer in the jail that night revealed they were using Facebook and online poker. The plaintiffs charged that officers did not check on Mr. Bunyan at regular intervals. The cell had no lights and had a mesh screen that allowed a string to be fastened. Bunyan then used that string to hang himself.

The city of Hooper Bay’s attorney in a trial brief argued that the police qualify for immunity and that Title 47 care also immunize the police. The attorney says they would only owe a duty of care to prevent suicide if they were on reasonable notice that Bunyan was a suicide risk. They say neither police nor family members indicated that Bunyan was at risk for suicide. The city’s attorney told the Alaska Dispatch that they plan to appeal.

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