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2 lawsuits likely over incidents at jail; Claims cite failure to prevent suicides

The county is facing two potential lawsuits over a suicide and an attempted suicide at the Erie County Holding Center this year.

The father of an 18-year-old man who authorities said hanged himself in the Holding Center in September has filed notice with the county that he plans to file suit over the death of his son, Rakim Scriven.

And a Holding Center inmate, Alvin McKenzie, also has filed a notice of claim over his own suicide attempt at the jail in July.

Attorneys in both cases claim the negligence of Erie County and the Sheriff's Office led to the incidents.

Attorney Frank M. Bogulski, who represents Scriven's father, Kevin Scriven, said Scriven's family notified the jail that he had a history of threatening suicide prior to his death.

"It could have been easily prevented if they had taken adequate steps to ensure his safety," Bogulski said. "And it's more egregious even knowing that they've been under investigation by the Department of Justice and they're aware that this happens."

A few weeks before Scriven's death, county attorneys reached a deal with the U.S. Department of Justice to dismiss a federal lawsuit over conditions at the county jail. The agreement, among other requirements, obligates the county to notify the department of a death or serious suicide attempt and to share autopsy reports and other documents. The Sheriff's Office also agreed in 2010 to improve suicide screening at the Holding Center and to upgrade some areas of the jail.

County officials said Rakim Scriven was found hanging from a bed sheet Sept. 4 in his cell a day after he had been taken off one-on-one observation. He died a day later.

The wrongful death claim filed by Scriven's father, who is also administer of his estate, seeks $5 million for the "emotional pain and suffering, loss of companionship and the loss of his son."

County Attorney Jeremy A. Colby said the county "intends to vigorously defend this matter."

In the other case, McKenzie put the county on notice that he plans to sue over his attempted suicide in July. McKenzie, according to reports at the time, tried to hang himself hours after he was booked into the jail.

McKenzie's legal notice, filed by attorney Christopher M. Pannozzo, alleges that the county failed to "take reasonable measures" to prevent inmates such as himself "from inflicting serious physical injury to their person."

Pannozzo said McKenzie, who remains at the Holding Center, was in a comatose state for some time after the incident. The legal notice claims he suffered "severe and permanent injuries" including "strangulation, restricted air flow, brain injury."