LOCKPORT – The son of a man who threw himself to his death minutes before he would have been taken to state prison on a rape conviction filed suit against Niagara County last week.
The lawsuit claims the Sheriff’s Office was negligent in not preventing the suicide of Harold G. Case, who climbed onto the railing of a second-floor walkway in the jail Jan. 23, 2012, jumped head first, and died on the concrete below.
Case had threatened suicide in a phone call from jail, Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth R. Donatello told County Judge Matthew J. Murphy III during a court appearance in April 2011.
“He can’t handle state prison,” Donatello said at that court appearance. “If he has to do more than a year or two, he’ll settle things his own way.”
The suit, filed by Lockport attorney Jon L. Wilson on behalf of Douglas Case, asserts that the county should have installed a chain-link fence, a sheet of Plexiglas, or some other barrier along the railing to stop Case from killing himself. It also charges that some care should have been taken because of Case’s past suicide threat. The suit does not specify damages sought.
No changes have occurred in the layout or in procedures for prisoner transportation since Case’s death, Sheriff James R. Voutour said.
“That’s something we couldn’t prevent,” Voutour said. “He obviously planned it. If there was something we could have done to prevent it, we would have prevented it.”
“I want to find out why there couldn’t be something done," he said. “You have prisoners who may have mental health issues. You have prisoners who may be acting out for other reasons.”
Case, 50, of Hartland, had pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of attempted first-degree rape, and was sentenced by Murphy to the maximum 15 years in prison.
Case had assaulted a Lockport woman he knew at knife point in her home March 25, 2011.
He was held in the County Jail until Jan. 23, when he and other prisoners were to be transported to state prisons.
Voutour said Case was neither shackled nor handcuffed at the time he jumped off the walkway in one of the jail’s “pods,” or cellblocks. He was on his way to be handcuffed when he threw himself off the walkway.
“He’d just left his cell,” the sheriff said. “He took that opportunity to leave. I suppose we could have cuffed and shackled him in his cell, but we don’t do that.”
Wilson said the potential should have been recognized.
“If you have a significant change of elevation, to my way of thinking, there’s a potential for harm,” Wilson said.
The sheriff noted the jail is in compliance with state regulations.
We’re audited every year. … I’m very confident we’ll be fine in this lawsuit,” he said.
Case’s defense attorney, George V.C. Muscato, said at the sentencing that Case had spent time in the psychiatric unit of Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center in the past, and also blamed the rape on Case being drunk.
“Harold Case struggled with alcoholism,” Muscato said.