Cellmate's Suicide Was Traumatic, Man Says
By Purna Nemani, Courthouse News
HONOLULU (CN) - A Hawaii man says in state and federal court that Oahu corrections officers ignored his pleas for help all night after he discovered that his cellmate had hanged himself.
In Hawaii's First Circuit Court, Charles A. Cocklin II sued the state and several as-yet unknown defendants. In U.S. District Court, he sued Joe Booker Jr., the deputy director of corrections; Francis Sequeira, warden of the Oahu Community Correctional Center (OCCC); and Jesse Wright, an adult corrections officer (ACO). Both complaints, which are substantially identical, were filed Monday.
Cocklin says he has been awaiting trial in OCCC since his 2009 arrest for various alleged offenses.
"On or about May 12, 2010, plaintiff was transferred into a cell with a former Adult Corrections Officer (ACO) who was fearful of the current ACOs at OCCC and had a history of suicide attempts," the complaints state.
"On May 12, 2010, at approximately 10:30 p.m., plaintiff awoke in his cell and discovered that his cellmate had committed suicide by hanging himself."
Along with the body, Cocklin found a suicide note indicating that his cellmate had called his family earlier in the day to say "goodbye."
"Plaintiff fell out of his bunk in a panic, slipped and hit his head, and then ran over to the cell door to pound on the door and yell for assistance."
"Although plaintiff could see three ACOs, including defendant Wright, who were supposed to be monitoring his cell, none of those ACOs responded to plaintiff pounding on the cell door and yelling for assistance," the state court complaint says.
One of the guards slept through the ordeal, and another sat in a chair with a towel draped over his head, Cocklin says.
Though one of the guards answered a ringing telephone, he says none responded to his pleas.
Finally at 4:30 a.m., after spending six hours with the body, an officer delivering breakfast discovered the suicide, according to the complaint.
OCCC allegedly suspended one of the three officers, leading a guard to threaten Cocklin verbally and via letter over the discipline. He also claims that the officers "falsified the cell check work logs to cover up the fact that [they] had not monitored plaintiff's cell."
Cocklin says he suffered from headaches and vomiting for four days following the incident, but jail would not let him see a doctor. He claims he has received "minimal treatment and medication," and the "prison doctor told plaintiff that because his psychiatric treatment requires greater expertise than that doctor possesses, he had stopped treating plaintiff for emotional distress."
The inmate allegedly suffers from "insomnia, neck pain, phantom smells and visions of his cellmate's dead body." Cocklin says he has attempted suicide himself twice since the incident.
Cocklin seeks damages for violations of his due process and civil rights, as well as deliberate indifference, negligent supervision and emotional distress.
He is represented by Eric Seitz in both cases.