PITTSBURGH (AP) _ A former top health official at a county jail was found liable Thursday for the death of a doctor in custody and ordered to pay $200,000 to the doctor’s estate.
A federal jury deliberated for two days before finding Dana Phillips liable in the December 2008 suicide of Dr. Shiva Acharya. The jury had previously told the judge it was deadlocked, but it resumed deliberations.
The 33-year-old doctor hanged himself in the Allegheny County jail where he was jailed following a police chase in which he fatally struck a motorcyclist on the Pennsylvania Turnpike in September 2008.
The doctor’s estate sued various jail officials and those with Allegheny Correctional Health Services, a county nonprofit that used to run the jail’s inmate health services. The lawsuit claimed his civil rights were violated because officials knew he was suicidal but didn’t prevent his death.
Phillips, the nonprofit’s chief operating officer, was the only person held liable Thursday. Her attorney, David Rosenberg, said he hadn’t been authorized to comment on her behalf.
The jury found in favor of former warden Ramon Rustin and Dr. Bruce Dixon, the chairman of the health services agency and the then-director of the county health department, among others.
County Solicitor Andrew Szefi told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review he was pleased the county officials were cleared.
Acharya was driving from Chicago to a job interview in Easton, Pennsylvania. Police tried to stop him for a traffic violation in Ohio, but the Nepalese doctor panicked and sped away because he didn’t have a valid driver’s license. The chase continued onto the Pennsylvania Turnpike, where Acharya lost control of his vehicle and fatally struck a motorcyclist.
The doctor was deemed suicidal and closely watched until late November 2008, when he was moved into a transitional cell. Attorneys for his estate contend no one checked on him for 17 days before he hanged himself.
“He was basically just put in the pod and left alone,” plaintiff’s attorney Milo Lundblad told the newspaper.
An insurance company for the defunct health services company will pay the verdict. The county has hired private health vendors to provide services at the jail in recent years.