A psychiatrist is not immune from being sued for damages by the family of a teenage inmate who killed himself in prison, a federal appeals court has ruled.
Psychiatrist Kenneth Tepe had argued that he should be immune from the 2009 lawsuit under a federal law that shields government officials from lawsuits in some cases.
But a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ruled that Tepe isn’t immune because he was employed by a private company — not the government — while working part time at Butler County Prison in southwest Ohio.
Tepe didn’t immediately return a call for comment.
The lawsuit stems from the March 2007 suicide of 19-year-old Timothy Hughes, who hanged himself from his bunk with a sheet in Butler County Prison after a social worker at the facility denied him access to Tepe to talk about his depression, history of suicide attempts and medication needs, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit said Hughes also spoke of his problems to prison staff and was wrongfully put in a cell alone even after being classified as a “suicide alert.”
Hughes’ mother, Sheila McCullum, sued in March 2009, arguing that Tepe, the social worker, the prison and others were deliberately indifferent to her son’s suicidal tendencies.
The county settled its part of the lawsuit with McCullum this year, paying her $150,000, said McCullum’s Cincinnati attorney, Jennifer Branch.
Branch said she’ll be seeking a higher but unspecified amount in the lawsuit that remains pending against Tepe, his employer and the social worker.