Family Awarded $3M for Jailhouse Suicide

Posted February 8, 2013 in Crime Jury Awards Personal Injury by

Prisoner's hands gripping the bars of her cell


When Karen A. Palmer was booked after her arrest in Sullivan, Mo., for trespassing and for stealing prescription drugs, she was wearing a pink sweatshirt with a string hanging from the hood that police failed to notice.

While incarcerated in the Sullivan jail, Palmer hung herself using the string. She also tried to slit her wrists with a plastic fork.

Palmer’s parents and daughter were recently awarded $2.8 million for her suicide.

Their lawsuit claimed that the police officers were “deliberately indifferent” to the risk that she would kill herself by not only missing the string but also ignoring her mother and fiance’s warnings not to leave her alone.

A key piece of evidence was that the officers were supposed to be monitoring Palmer by video feed in her cell. One police employee said that he thought Palmer was sitting in a stool in her cell, but if they had been checking her every ten minutes as they were supposed to, they would have seen the string and the stool. Palmer’s body was not discovered until two hours after her death.

Attorney Don Schlapprizzi headshot

Attorney Donald Schlapprizzi

The police officers argued that Palmer denied that she had any mental disorders and didn’t show any signs of “a desire to harm herself.” According to police policy, if a prisoner is suicidal or tries to harm him or herself, they must be taken to the hospital.

After a five-day trial, the jury agreed that the officers were responsible for Palmer’s death.

The family’s attorney, Donald Schlapprizzi, said the jury “spoke as the conscience of the community” and that the family felt they had been vindicated.

There had been at least 12 previous suicide attempts by prisoners at the Sullivan jail.