Board to vote on jail suicide case settlement

By: Alex Szwarc | C&G Newspapers | Published April 15, 2021

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MACOMB COUNTY — After emerging from closed session, a case involving a death at the Macomb County Jail is closer to being settled.

At the April 7 Macomb County Board of Commissioners Government Oversight Committee meeting, the commission unanimously approved a motion involving a settlement.

The item will now be forwarded to full board, where a final vote will happen April 29.

The settlement would be for up to $150,000 in a case that centers around a 2017 suicide in the Macomb County Jail. The commission was in close session for about 50 minutes.

On April 7, the motion was to concur with John Schapka’s recommendation that the commission accept the facilitator’s award. Schapka, Macomb County Corporation Counsel, said funding for the agreement is available in the Liability Insurance Fund.

“We haven’t heard whether the plaintiff is going to accept, so it’s not a done deal,” Schapka said April 12. “We have approval to resolve for up to that amount.”

He added that he told the board it’s not a true settlement in that this is accepting a facilitator’s opinion as to the value.   

The federal lawsuit against the county is the case of Nicholas Moore, a personal representative of the estate of Cathy Ajami‐Moore. Moore is listed as the plaintiff. Ajami-Moore, formerly of Detroit, is deceased and was Moore’s wife.

Several defendants are listed in court documents, including the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office and Wellpath LLC, formerly known as Correct Care Solutions.

In May 2020, a complaint was filed by Moore in the U.S. District Court Eastern District of Michigan Southern Division. The complaint ends by stating that the defendants violated Ajami-Moore’s U.S. Constitutional rights. It also alleges that the plaintiff’s deceased wife suffered conscious pain and suffering prior to her death and that the estate has become liable for medical and burial expenses.

“We responded formally by denying all allegations,” Schapka said in response to the complaint. “A settlement is not an admission of anything. I looked at complaints as works of fiction, with both sides exaggerating the best- and worst-case scenario.”

Moore requested an award of damages pursuant to the Michigan Wrongful Death Statute and Michigan Survival Statute in an amount “which is fair and just.”

The complaint outlines that Wellpath was in charge of determining the need for all health care and mental health care services including diagnoses, prognoses and treatment for inmates at the Macomb County Jail, including Ajami-Moore while she was a pretrial detainee at the jail.  

The complaint indicates that the defendant had a paramount duty, while Ajami-Moore was in custody, to not increase the known threat that her mental health would deteriorate and that she would be allowed, without observation, to take her own life as a result of her psychological distress.

It alleges that Macomb County had direct responsibility to provide appropriate and safe premises in the jail for inmates and to effectively monitor the performance and contractual compliance of Wellpath, regarding its contractual responsibilities.

Court documents reveal that, on Oct. 17, 2016 Ajami-Moore was housed in the jail following a “bizarre incident” and a motor vehicle collision resulting in head injuries.

At that time, C&G Newspapers reported that Ajami-Moore crashed her car in Oakland County after leading police on a chase beginning in St. Clair Shores. She was arraigned on charges of stalking, fleeing and eluding, and malicious use of a computer.

Ajami-Moore was again arrested in late March 2017 while on a law enforcement monitored tether. Attorneys for Moore argue that Ajami-Moore once again provided a lifelong history of psychological problems, self-harm and 32 suicide attempts.

Shortly after that arrest, the complaint states that she was screened at the jail and was determined to be high risk and placed in a video-monitored mental health unit cell.

Ajami-Moore, as stated in the file, died by suicide on May 6, 2017.

“With a suicide, you’ll never know why,” Schapka said. “Most notes don’t tell you why. They’re all tragic and regrettable. You don’t know if that reason would be a good reason.”

Attorneys for Moore state Ajami-Moore was placed in a cell without video monitoring of any part of the cell, although more secure cells with increased video surveillance were available for her use.

It continues that, after composing a suicide letter and fashioning a bed sheet into a noose, Ajami-Moore applied it on the bunk bed bar and hanged herself, causing her death by asphyxiation.

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