ALBION — Noble County Sheriff Doug Harp, jail commander Capt. Shane Coney and jail staff are being sued in a wrongful death case after an inmate at the Noble County Jail hung himself in a cell on Oct. 4, 2017.
The complaint in the case was filed Nov. 1, more than a year after the inmate died in custody. The civil suit has since been removed from the local county court to the federal district court for northern Indiana in Fort Wayne, where it is pending.
The suit was filed following the death of 23-year-old Markus Middleton, of Albion, who died while in being held at the county jail.
Middleton had been booked on Sept. 11, 2017, on initial charges of false informing and resisting law enforcement, both Class A misdemeanors. After an initial appearance on Sept. 12, his bond was set at $7,500.
Middleton did not bond out and remained in the jail, during which time the suit alleges he was “continuously mocked, harassed, threatened, and denied mental health treatment.”
The complaint describes Middleton as “a young, gay effeminate man with a small build,” who also suffered from bipolar disorder and serious depression, for which he had previously received treatment, according to court documents.
The suit alleges that for the 23 days in custody, Middleton was denied adequate treatment for his mental health conditions, denied protective custody and “repeatedly threatened with harm by fellow inmates and discriminatorily mocked and taunted by jail guards because of his sexuality.”
The complaint claims that the sheriff’s department was alerted that Middleton’s mental state was waning and that his health and safety were in danger but that those warnings were ignored.
On Oct. 4, Middleton was alone in his cell and used bedding from his bunk to hang himself. He was discovered unresponsive at approximately 8:30 p.m. and jail staff and first responders attempted to resuscitate him.
He was pronounced dead at 9:01 p.m., according to a release from Indiana State Police issued in October 2017.
The plaintiff, Jerry Middleton, Markus’s partner, heir and personal representative, seeks damages from the county for wrongful death and negligence including compensatory and punitive damages, as well as legal costs.
The suit was filed Nov. 1 of this year and on the following day, Noble Circuit Court Judge Michael Kramer recused himself from the case due to a conflict. Whitley Circuit Court Judge Matthew Rentschler agreed to accept the case on Nov. 20.
The county is being represented by attorney Julie Havenith of St. Paul, Minnesota, counsel for the county’s liability insurer carrier, Travelers. On Nov. 27, Havenith filed to have the case moved to the federal court, which was accepted.
On Dec. 21, Havenith filed for additional time to answer the complaint, which was the last action taken in the case.