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Lawsuit: Illinois 'Tortured' Prisoner Into Suicide

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Logan Correctional Center

A mother is suing Illinois and Sangamon County officials for failing to prevent her daughter's suicide.

Tiffany Rusher had serious mental health problems. While an inmate at Logan Correctional Center, she tried again and again to take her own life — swallowing batteries, banging her head against a wall, and repeatedly trying to hang herself.

Officials put her in a crisis cell — a room with a large clear wall and nothing but a tear-resistant nylon blanket (known as a "suicide blanket") and a steel toilet.

Her mother’s lawyer, Alan Mills of the Uptown People's Law Center, says that sort of confinement should only be used for a few hours. Instead, "she was in there for eight months, with absolutely no property. Alone in that cell with a guard literally staring at her 24 hours a day."

Mills says officials should have transferred her to a state mental hospital right away. That’s what they eventually did — after waiting until her sentence was up.

Although she got treatment at the Springfield facility, she also got into trouble, fighting with other residents. Rusher wound up in the Sangamon County jail, where after more months in a crisis cell, she used a rag to asphyxiate herself. She died in a nearby hospital.

“Tiffany was not given a death sentence. Yet the way we treated her led to her death," Mills says. "This is a perfect example of what happens when we lock away people without giving them the attention that they need."

Reached by phone Monday afternoon, Sangamon County administrator Brian McFadden said he had just learned about the lawsuit, but added the county believes its people did nothing wrong. Sheriff Wes Barr and jail superintendent Larry Beck, who are named as defendants in the county lawsuit, did not respond to voicemails seeking comment.

The Rauner administration said it hadn't been served and offered no further comment. The Department of Corrections says it doesn't comment on pending lawsuits.

Brian Mackey formerly reported on state government and politics for NPR Illinois and a dozen other public radio stations across the state. Before that, he was A&E editor at The State Journal-Register and Statehouse bureau chief for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.
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