There are only two suicide cells in the Sherburne County jail where an inmate can be continuously monitored, and James Lynas was in neither one of them.
A lawsuit claims that jail authorities should have known that Lynas, 31, of Zimmerman, was exhibiting suicidal tendencies when he hung himself in November 2017. The lawsuit names multiple defendants, including medical staff at the Sherburne County jail, a psychologist who did not schedule an appointment for Lynas until a week after his death, and the medical director and owner of a contractor that provides medical services to the jail.
Some defendants contend there was no evidence the guards “knew of a strong likelihood Lynas would take his life.”
“Mr. Lynas’ death was a tragedy and we continue to offer our sincere sympathies to his family for their loss,” the company, MEnD Correctional Care, said in an e-mail.
The firm provides medical care to the Sherburne County jail. “Even so,” it added, “we believe the lawsuit against us and the other defendants in this case to be unsupported by the facts or the law.”
Lynas, who had a history of drug and alcohol abuse, was picked up for driving under the influence in July 2017 and held for two days in the Sherburne County jail, where he tested positive for opiates and other drugs. When he was arrested again on drunken driving charges on Oct. 31 of that year, he was held on a parole violation and transferred to the Sherburne County jail.
According to a nurse’s evaluation on Nov. 2, Lynas suffered from depression and anxiety and was exhibiting “suicide ideation ... due to pain associated with withdrawal.” In a clinical form he filled out on Nov. 5, he acknowledged that he had “thoughts of killing himself” although “he would not carry them out.”
An on-call physician assistant, located in Brainerd, noted Lynas’ condition, had him put on a mental health watch, and ordered a medication, though no one ever determined if the treatment was working, the suit alleges.
The physician assistant made an “urgent referral” that Lynas be seen by a qualified mental health professional, but he was never seen by a doctor or psychologist, his lawyers say. A psychologist scheduled an appointment for Nov. 16, but by then, Lynas was dead.
“There was a complete breakdown of mental health delivery to an obviously very seriously ill inmate,” said Robert Bennett, the family attorney.
But Stephanie Angolkar, an attorney representing jail staff, argues that corrections officers did not know Lynas was suicidal.
“Had medical staff deemed Lynas to be a suicide risk, they could have placed him on a 15-minute watch in a booking cell with a Kevlar gown,” she said in an e-mail.
The lawsuit also contends that MEnD Correctional Care was spread too thin to provide adequate services to help Lynas or other inmates. The suit alleges the company has only one doctor, Todd Leonard, who operates the firm which provided services to 4,000 inmates in 30 counties across the state in 2017, and that he spends 90% of his time on administrative duties.
Leonard’s company responded in a statement that his firm provided “quality care” to Lynas that was “reflective of the high standards our profession demands.”
The company said it was not uncommon for inmates under its care to see nurse practitioners or physician assistants.
“The suggestion that Dr. Leonard is the only qualified and experienced medical provider employed by MEnD to provide inmate care is misleading and false,” the statement said.
Lynas was a factory worker and in more recent years had gotten clean from drug use, said his sister, Charity Brown of Monticello.
But while he was working with his father in a barn earlier in 2017, his nose was badly injured when sheet metal fell on him, and he was prescribed opioids that led him to resume using drugs, she said. He leaves behind a 9-year-old daughter who has been living with her mother and grandmother.
“This daughter no longer has a father,” Brown said. “It’s been very hard.”