Prison Guards Bet on an Inmate's Suicide. Then, Choking Sounds Came From Her Unit.
By Isaac Stanley-Becker, SF Gate
Shortly after 2 p.m. on a Monday in November 2015, an inmate in the Women's Huron Valley Correctional Facility, a sprawling prison in Ypsilanti, Michigan, cried out that she "wants Bam Bam," slang for an anti-suicide smock.
Janika Edmond of Adrian, Michigan, knew she posed a danger to herself. The 25-year-old had been in this position before. Beset by major depressive and mood disorders, she had attempted suicide on numerous occasions while incarcerated, according to court filings. Several months earlier, the inmate, with closely cropped hair and the words "Beautiful Disaster" tattooed on her chest, had asked to be put on suicide precaution for her own safety.
Her latest cry for help was issued from a shower area where she had been stationed while waiting to be placed in an isolated cell. At least a dozen correctional officers were in earshot of the prisoner, lawyers allege. She was on mental health outpatient status at the time. None came to her aid.
Instead, one appeared to celebrate the inmate's anguished appeal, according to a civil complaint reviewed by The Washington Post.
"Somebody owes me lunch!" Dianna Callahan, a prison guard, gloated, according to the legal filing, which cites video records maintained by the Michigan Department of Corrections.
The guard raised her fist into the air, pumping it three times and flashing a thumbs-up sign. She repeated, "Somebody owes me lunch!"
Now, the state owes Edmond's family $860,000, as part of a settlement agreement in a wrongful-death lawsuit that arose from the episode. The settlement was approved last week by Judge Robert Cleland of the U.S. District Court in Detroit.
"It's horrible, horrible, horrible, horrible," an attorney for Edmond's family, David Steingold, said in an interview with The Washington Post. "It's a catastrophe that should never have happened if the prison officials had just done their jobs."
But evidence from the scene suggests officials had different incentives. One minute after Callahan's celebratory gesture, she engaged another prison official in talk of a Subway sandwich - her prize, Steingold observes, for winning a bet among the correctional officers about whether the notoriously volatile inmate would again become suicidal.
Two minutes later, choking sounds emanated from the shower area. The noises continued for several minutes, and no one intervened, as detailed in the complaint, which describes a timeline confirmed by a transcription of video footage prepared by the Michigan State Police and obtained by MLive.com.
Nearly 20 minutes after she had first called for help, Edmond was discovered lying in the shower. She had a bra around her neck.
She had entered the prison in 2013 for a probation violation stemming from charges of assault with a dangerous weapon. She was scheduled to be released as early as April 2016, according to the federal lawsuit.