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Hanging death suit filed against county

| June 2, 2006 12:00 AM

The family of a woman who hung herself in the Lincoln County jail three years ago has filed a lawsuit alleging that negligence on the part of the sheriff's office and the Western Montana Mental Health Center contributed to her death.

Ivy Schlund's husband, Gary Schlund, and their two minor children are suing the Mental Health Center and its Missoula-based director, Paul Meyer, along with local director Cindy Jensen and case manager Teri Kelly as well as Lincoln County and Sheriff Daryl Anderson. Ten "John Does" are also listed in place of as-yet unidentified potential defendants. The Schlund family is represented by Libby attorney Amy Guth.

Schlund, 29, was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence during the early morning hours of June 11, 2003. According to court documents, she made suicidal comments during the booking process and once in her cell began throwing herself against the cell door. She was then removed from her cell and placed in a restraint chair by jail officers.

Schlund had a history of mental illness including bipolar disorder and had been a patient of the Mental Health Center since 1997, according to the lawsuit. She had been seeing Jensen for the past four months and while in custody asked repeatedly to see Jensen, the suit continues. Jensen was contacted but according to the lawsuit refused to respond. Kelly arrived around 9 a.m. and evaluated Schlund in a cell at the jail.

The suit contends that Kelly was "not qualified or trained" to evaluate suicidal behavior. According to the suit, Kelly advised jail officers that Schlund did not express suicidal thoughts and that she was competent to appear in court.

Schlund was found in her cell around 11:45 a.m. hanging from a noose she had fashioned from her jail-issued pants and wrapped around the top bunk. She was unconscious and not breathing. She was taken to St. John's Lutheran Hospital, where she died early the next morning.

The Schlund family contends in the suit that the Mental Health Center and the county were negligent in, among other things, failing to provide emergency mental health care, refusing to ensure Schlund's well-being despite knowledge of pre-existing mental illness, and failing to properly train and supervise their employees.

The family is seeking unspecified damages including medical and funeral expenses, loss of potential income and services, mental distress and punitive damages.