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Fayette guards' performance before prisoner's suicide defended

| Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Attorneys for two former Fayette County corrections officers, who are named as defendants in a wrongful death lawsuit filed in federal court after an inmate hanged himself, argue that the two guards were unaware the inmate was suicidal.

In a motion filed on Monday in U.S. District Court, attorneys for Barry Simon and Geary O'Neil deny allegations that O'Neil was asleep at his post and Simon failed to watch a video feed of the inmate in his cell.

Cade Stevens, 25, of Dawson hanged himself in the county prison four years ago.

Stevens' mother, Shannon Ferencz of Nashville, contends officials allegedly failed to place Stevens on suicide watch, despite a mental health evaluation indicating that he might harm himself, according to the suit. Stevens had been going through heroin withdrawal, it said.

Stevens was in jail on charges he struck a golfer in the face with an unloaded shotgun and robbed the man of $80 on Sept. 10, 2009, at the Linden Hall Golf Course. Police said Stevens told them he needed money to buy marijuana.

Surveillance footage at the jail on Sept. 12, 2009, shows Stevens hanging from a sheet for almost 30 minutes before corrections officers cut him down. The suicide followed two attempts less than 10 minutes earlier, the suit alleges.

County officials fired Simon and O'Neil for allegedly failing to monitor Stevens' cell. A videotape shown during a coroner's inquest in 2010 showed O'Neil leaning back with his feet up on a desk.

In the court brief, attorneys from Thomas, Thomas and Hafer of Pittsburgh said neither of the officers knew that Stevens was suicidal.

“It is denied that O'Neil was sleeping,” his attorneys wrote. They denied allegations that Simon left his post and failed to monitor Stevens' cell.

“It is denied that Simon failed to make rounds one time in the hour preceding Stevens' death,” the brief said. “To the contrary, Simon made a round at approximately 9 a.m. and both saw and spoke to Stevens at that time.”

The motion asks that a judge deny Ferencz's request for summary judgment in the case.

Others named as defendants in the lawsuit are the county, former warden Larry Medlock, then-deputy warden Brian Miller, who is now the warden, and Harrisburg-based Primecare Medical.

Carol Younkin, a Primecare nurse who was initially named, was terminated as a defendant in October 2012.

Liz Zemba is a reporter for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166 or lzemba@tribweb.com.

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