Metro Weekly

Indiana prison faces wrongful death suit after gay inmate commits suicide

Lawsuit claims jail staff ignored warnings and denied Markus Middleton medically necessary mental health treatment

Markus Middleton – Photo: WANE.

An Indiana county sheriff, officers, and staff at the county prison are being sued in a wrongful death case after a gay inmate who suffered from bipolar disorder and a history of depression killed himself while in custody.

Former Noble County Sheriff Doug Harp, jail commander Capt. Shane Coney and staff at the jail are being sued for failing to take appropriate action to protect 23-year-old Markus Middleton from abuse and harassment at the Noble County Jail, and for failing to provide him with adequate mental health treatments during the 23 days he was incarcerated.

Middleton, who hung himself in a cell on Oct. 4, 2017, was booked a month earlier on charges of false informing and resisting law enforcement, both Class A misdemeanors, which carry penalties of a fine of up to $5,000 and a sentence of up to a year in prison. After appearing in court, his bail was set at $7,500. But he could not pay the bond and so remained in prison as he awaited trial, reports The Kendallville News Sun.

A lawsuit filed by his surviving partner Jerry Middleton claims that prison officials “continuously mocked, harassed, threatened, and denied mental health treatment” to Markus Middleton, who is described in the complaint as “a young, gay effeminate man with a small build” who had been receiving treatment for bipolar disorder and serious depression prior to his incarceration.

But despite being warned about Middleton’s pre-existing mental health issues, the sheriff’s department is accused of ignoring that information.

The lawsuit alleges that, in addition to denying Middleton mental health treatment, the prison also refused to place him in protective custody, even though he was repeatedly threatened by fellow inmates. The lawsuit also alleges that guards at the jail mocked and taunted Middleton because of his sexuality.

Jerry Middleton’s lawsuit was filed on Nov. 1, 2018, and, on the following day Noble Circuit Court Judge Michael Kramer recused himself from the case. Whitley Circuit Court Judge Matthew Rentschler accepted the case on Nov. 20, but the case was moved to the federal district court for northern Indiana, located in Fort Wayne, on Nov 27, at the request of Julie Havenith, the lawyer representing the county in the case.

On Dec. 21, Havenith asked the court for additional time to respond to the lawsuit, in which Jerry Middleton has asked for damages related to his partner’s death, compensation for legal costs, and a jury trial, reports Fort Wayne-based CBS affiliate WANE. The court has since granted Havenith until Jan. 21 to respond.

During a Jan. 3 pre-trial conference, Magistrate Judge Susan Collins set a discovery date of Sept. 27, 2019, meaning that Middleton’s lawyer must provide any and all information that could be used to prove the county’s guilt to Havenith and her team so that she can mount a credible defense of her clients. No trial date has been set, but it will likely be scheduled at a later point by whichever judge will preside over the trial.

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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