Wever v. Carmen
No. 03-2976 (8th Cir., Nov. 4, 2004) (Magill, for Arnold and Murphy, J.J.)
Facts: Wever called 911. He was depressed and crying. He said that he was going to kill himself. Several police officers went to his home. Wever lived with his mom and dad. Wever's father arrive and tried to help the police officers calm Wever. Wever was not doing anything illegal, but agreed to go to the hospital.
Without any apparent legal justification, the police officers decided to arrest Wever. Wever consented on the condition that they not handcuff him. They threw him to the ground, cuffed him, and put him the police car. Wever said if the put him in jail, he would kill himself.
While in the car, Wever kicked out the back window. The officers then subdued him and put him in leg chains. Wever's mom saw the police officers start kicking Wever after he was cuffed, but the police deny this.
After a medical examination, the nurse cleared Wever for incarceration. The on-duty jailer was told Wever was suicidal, but nonetheless gave him a blanket. Seventeen minutes later, Wever was found hanging from the blanket. Wever was dead.
Issues: In pre-trial custodial settings, the government owes an affirmative duty under the Due Process Clause to protect the detainee from harm, including self-inflicted harm. The jailers knew that Wever said he was going to kill himself if jailed, yet they did not provide him medical treatment and they even gave him an instrumentality of suicide. Are the jailers liable? [Ed's note: Although the issue on appeal was whether Carmen, the jailer's supervisor, was entitled to QI, we must first establish that the jailers acted unconstitutionally because, by definition, a supervisor can not be held liable under 1983 unless his subordinates violate someone's rights].
A supervisor is liable for the unconstitutional acts of his subordinates if he is has notice that they are violating the rights of others. Carmen's jail had seen one previous suicide during the supervisor's tenure, and one during his tenure. Is the supervisor on notice that his subordinates are violating the rights of others?
Holding: Wever's jailers violated his due process rights by not taking reasonable measures to protect him from himself, and this right was clearly established. Carmen is liable because he was on notice that suicides had happened in his jail, but he did not train his subordinates on how to spot and prevent suicides.
Reasoning: There is an inverse relationship between the number of events that will put a supervisor on notice of rights violations, and the severity of the rights violations. One or two prior unconstitutional acts do not generally put a supervisor on notice (and thus subject him to liablity), but "this calculus is not rigid, and must change depending on the seriousness of the incident and its likelihood of discovery." Id. at *9. Thus, "[i]n some circumstances, one or two suicides may be sufficient to put a sheriff on notice that his suicide prevention training needs revision. In the present case, Wever has alleged that Carmen was placed on notice by two previous suicides, and we cannot say this is insufficient as a matter of law." Id.