ELKO — The county agreed to pay a $30,000 settlement Thursday related to a 2010 jail suicide.
The estate of James Allen Duhon sued the sheriff’s office and Elko County claiming jail staff were negligent in monitoring the 49-year-old Colorado inmate, who was found hanging in his cell.
Police pulled Duhon over during the 2010 Motorcycle Jamboree because his motorcycle handlebars were set higher than his shoulders. When an officer ran Duhon’s name, he linked the suspect to two out-of-state fugitive from justice warrants and issued an arrested.
At the Elko County Jail, officers searched Duhon and found a glass pipe and 1.7 grams of methamphetamine, according to police.
Duhon told jail employees he was an addict and was suffering heroin withdrawals. The jail allowed medical treatment and placed him in an isolation cell “for observation purposes due to a risk of further health and psychiatric problems, including risk of suicide,” the plaintiff complaint states.
While in isolation, monitoring and supervision was supposed to be constant, the plaintiffs alleged.
Four days after his arrest, jail staff found Duhon hanging in his isolation cell from a piece of bed sheet looped over a pipe.
After Duhon’s death, then-sheriff Dale Lotspeich told the Free Press the inmate hadn’t threatened suicide.
In September 2010, then-district attorney Gary Woodbury declined to file any criminal charges related to the incident, citing a lack of evidence of criminal neglect.
Duhon’s estate filed a civil suit in June 2012 against Sheriff Jim Pitts and Elko County — though Pitts wasn’t sheriff at the time of the suicide — seeking general damages in a sum exceeding $75,000 and special damages of the same amount. The plaintiff also sought attorney’s fees and any other relief deemed appropriate.
The sides struck a deal before the matter went to trial, and the county commission approved the $30,000 settlement Thursday. The county has a $25,000 insurance deductible.
In 2010, Lotspeich said the department would review its monitoring practices to ensure greater inmate safety.
Pitts said the jail changed policy before he was elected sheriff to check on inmates more frequently. He also said the jail is working to upgrade its camera system.
“We’re doing the best we can for everyone’s safety in and out of the jail,” Pitts said.
Attorneys from either party were unable to be reached for comment before press time.