Family of man who died in Anchorage jail files wrongful death lawsuit against the state

The family of a former Juneau man has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Department of Corrections. It’s the second wrongful death lawsuit filed against the department this year.

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Mark Canul. (Photo courtesy of Victoria Canul Dunne)
Mark Canul. (Photo courtesy of Victoria Canul Dunne)

The lawsuit alleged that the state was negligent in training employees to recognize and respond to the needs of mentally ill prisoners and that it was negligent in supervising those employees.

Mark Canul had been arrested for failing to leave Anchorage bus station property. The judge found Canul — who, according to family, was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and nearly deaf — not mentally competent to stand trial. On December 2, a judge ordered him to be admitted to the Alaska Psychiatric Institute “as soon as practicable.”

Meanwhile, Canul stayed at the Anchorage Correctional Complex. On December 11 he was placed in a cell with James Clinton. The family says the state should have known Clinton “struggled with mental illness and was predisposed to violence.”

Clinton attacked Canul, and according to the lawsuit “immediately admitted to killing” him, saying he’d “snapped.” Clinton is currently awaiting trial on murder charges.

Jason Skala — the attorney representing the Canul family — also represents the family of Kellsie Green in another lawsuit against the department. Green also died while in custody at the Anchorage jail in January.

Canul’s family seeks at least $100,000 in the suit. The Department of Corrections could not be reached for comment.

In an April interview, Commissioner Dean Williams said he couldn’t comment on specific cases, but acknowledged the department’s outstanding liabilities related to deaths in jails.

“The worst thing to do is duck and cover and not even acknowledge that there is a problem,” Williams said.

Williams said he wanted to limit the possibility of future deaths. In a November report before Williams became commissioner, he identified 25 deaths in state correctional facilities over 18 months.