CLARKSVILLE, TN (CLARKSVILLE NOW) – A lawsuit filed against Montgomery County over the 2020 suicide of an inmate at the county jail alleges the breakdown of several jail protocols, including lack of mental health care and malfunctioning cameras.
The federal lawsuit, filed in May 2021 by the father of 43-year-old Mark Tereau, alleges the jail staff – and the county by proxy – failed to exercise due care when Tereau was exhibiting mental distress.
The lawsuit demands $ 2 million in damages.
Mark Tereau’s case
Tereau was arrested April 27, 2020, on drug charges and booked into the Montgomery County Jail.
Fifteen days later, on May 12, 2020, he appeared in court and pleaded guilty to misdemeanor simple possession of meth, the lawsuit said. He was sentenced to 60 days in jail with credit for 14 days already served, according to court records.
After entering his plea, Tereau was transported back to the jail at 12:45 pm and placed in a cell by himself, the lawsuit said. Less than two hours later, deputies found Tereau hanging from the steel bed frame in his cell with a ligature made from a pair of long socks tied together. Jail staff initiated life-saving measures until paramedics arrived, the lawsuit continued, and he was transported to Tennova Healthcare-Clarksville.
He was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at the hospital, according to his autopsy report. Tereau’s cause of death was listed as hanging, and the manner was suicide.
Prior to his arrest, Tereau was using meth and was addicted to it, the lawsuit said. However, Tereau’s toxicology report came back clean, according to his autopsy.
The lawsuit states that meth addiction “substantially increases the likelihood of an inmate suffering from serious and severe mental and emotional distress to include suicidal tendencies, suicidal ideation, and attempted suicides while incarcerated in jail.”
The lawsuit said Tereau was exhibiting abnormal behaviors and signs of emotional distress before his death, which would indicate the need of increased observation. This would include the removal of any items from his cell that could have been a safety concern, such as long socks.
The lawsuit states some of the jail’s security cameras were not working during the time of Tereau’s suicide, leading to the assertion that his death was surrounded by “suspicious circumstances.”
Ben Dean, an attorney from Springfield representing Tereau and his father, had no comment on the case.
County responds to charges
In their answers to the lawsuit, both Montgomery County jail deputies and the county denied failing to provide reasonable care. They stated they had no knowledge of Tereau’s alleged meth addiction, and he showed no signs of withdrawal or mental distress.
Any suspicious circumstances surrounding Tereau’s death were also denied, and the defendants stated that the appropriate policies were followed for medical care, suicide watch and prevention.
The defendants said Tereau received health screenings when he arrived, and he was “referred for a routine mental health evaluation.”
On May 9, 2020, Tereau submitted a medical request because he was having trouble sleeping, the filing said. The following day, he was seen by a mental health professional and allegedly said he had no suicidal ideations. He was referred to psychiatry, the filing continued. Two days later, Tereau took his life.
In response to the lawsuit’s accusation that the cameras were not working, the defendants said maintenance records of the camera or CCTV malfunctions were not created, and even if they were working, the cameras were not positioned to view inside the cells.
Tim Harvey, the attorney representing the county and both jail deputies, declined to comment.
Compared to other counties
Since Jan. 1, 2010, there have been 11 unnatural deaths at the Montgomery County Jail, all of which have been by suicide except one who died of “reactive airway disease,” according to Sandra Brandon, spokeswoman for the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office.
The lawsuit alleges that this number is excessive, and many of the deaths were preventable.
“(Montgomery County) has had a policy and custom of routinely failing to perform adequate and necessary mental health assessments of inmates to include those suffering from addiction and withdrawal from methamphetamine, and as a result there has been a corresponding excessive number of instances of otherwise preventable inmate suicide and death, ”the lawsuit states.
However, data from two other counties with similar population sizes to Montgomery County show that’s not necessarily the case.
For example, in Rutherford County, seven inmates have died since 2010, according to information provided through a public records request by Clarksville Now. This includes deaths that occurred at hospitals while the inmate was still in the custody of the Rutherford County Adult Detention Center.
Williamson County’s jail has had eight inmate deaths since 2010, according to Sharon Puckett, Williamson County Sheriff’s Office public information officer.
This isn’t the first lawsuit the county has dealt with related to suicides at the jail. The mother of Kimberlie Holman, a 23-year-old who died by suicide in 2019 at Montgomery County Jail, filed a suit in 2020.
That case was dismissed in 2021 after Holman’s mother stopped responding to calls from her attorney, according to court records obtained by Clarksville Now.
If you or someone you know is at risk for suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Calls are free, confidential and answered 24/7. Or you can refer to our suicide awareness resource list to find a better solution for you.