Following a five day trial heard before Federal U.S. District Judge Nannette Baker, Jan. 15, through Jan. 18, in St. Louis, a federal jury awarded $2.85 million in the wrongful death case of Karen A. Palmer.
Palmer committed suicide by hanging herself in the Sullivan City Jail on October 17, 2009.
Palmer was arrested on a Sullivan warrant on October 16, 2009, for the charge of trespassing and held on $250 bond. At that time she was also being questioned in prescription drug theft.
On Saturday, October 17, 2009, at 12:15 a.m. Palmer was found deceased in her cell from suicide by hanging. Palmer had used a string from a hooded sweatshirt to hang herself. At the time the incident was investigated by the Missouri Highway Patrol.
The family of Palmer, Debora D. Tanner, Danny C. Palmer and Karen Palmers minor child, filed a lawsuit against the City of Sullivan and five officers, on August 5, 2011.
In the first two count against the City and Police Department, during a pre-trial hearing, Judge Baker granted a summary judgement to the city and police on the constitutional claim of deliberate indifference and the city on the wrongful death claim. The judge however let the wrongful death case proceed forward against four Sullivan officers.
The family, represented by the firm Schlapprizzi Law Firm, claimed that the officers failed to remove a pink string from the hooded sweatshirt of Karen Palmer at the time of her incarceration. Officers were supposed to remove items that any inmate may use to harm themselves.
Schlapprizzi attorney’s also brought forth a family claim that police were “deliberately indifferent” to the risk of Palmer’s suicide, by missing the string and ignoring a warning from a family member that Karen Palmer should not be left alone.
The firm also pointed out that a plastic fork, used to serve meals to the inmates at the Sullivan Jail was previously used by Palmer that morning in an attempt to cut her wrists, however that was not observed by the officers until after the fact.
Inmates in the Sullivan Jail are monitored by camera’s from the Dispatch Center and according to Sullivan Police protocol, inmates are monitored every ten minutes from the communications officers as Sullivan does not have a jailor present in the jail.
Court findings stated that Palmer committed suicide two hours prior to her being discovered by police. Testimony indicated that the communications officer had observed Palmer on the video system but it appeared that she was sitting on a stool.
Following the week long trial the jury deliberated for a short period of time and returned finding that the four officers involved with Palmers arrest, booking and monitoring had “complete indifference to or conscious disregard” for the safety of Palmer, awarding $1.55 million in punitive damages to the family members in the suit on to of $1.3 million in actual damages. This was split between the four officers unequally as to their part in the death.
The City of Sullivan, Sullivan Police and the Insurance companies attorney representing the city, Robert Wulff, could not comment on the case due to the case being appealed through the Court of Appeals.
The Palmer family attorney, Don Schlapprizzi stated to the Independent News, “The family felt absolutely that justice had been served in this case. This was an angry jury that performed their function well and spoke for the voice of the community.”
Schlapprizzi stated that since this case has not come to a full conclusion at this point he could really not comment any further.