VALLEY CITY, N.D. — A lawsuit against Barnes County, the sheriff and four deputies alleges their "deliberate indifference" caused the death of Lonny Levi Bradley, an inmate who killed himself Oct. 5, 2018, at the county jail.
Bradley, a father who was about 25 years old, used bed sheets to fatally hang himself from a shower curtain rod 18 days after a previous attempt using the same shower curtain rod, according to the lawsuit, which attorney Cash Aaland filed Monday, Feb. 3, in federal court on behalf of Bradley's father, Mark.
The lawsuit alleges that Sheriff Randy McClaflin and deputies ignored the fact that Bradley was suicidal, that he talked about taking his own life repeatedly, and that jail staff made no effort to ensure his safety.
Aaland is also suing Barnes County in connection with the death of 72-year-old Warren Lindvold, who was arrested on suspicion of DUI and died of a broken neck July 21, 2018, after being found on the floor of the county jail. Lindvold had a prior neck injury, and a family friend previously told The Forum that Lindvold had a progressive arthritis condition he'd dealt with since high school.
Lindvold's death came just two and a half months before Bradley's. Bradley was arrested on suspicion of terrorizing and resisting arrest. At the time of his death, his bail amount was $5,000.
“He was just a pretrial detainee. He was presumed innocent. He hadn’t been convicted of anything. He wasn’t there to be punished,” Aaland said.
“It’s hard for your heart not to go out to the Lindvold family and Lonnie Bradley’s family, two people who should not have died, who would not have died, had the Barnes County sheriff been doing his job,” Aaland said.
The lawsuit names Barnes County, Sheriff McClaflin and deputies Julie Forsman, Jenna Jochim, Drew Brix and Jesse Burchill as defendants. On Monday, McClaflin told The Forum he had not heard about the lawsuit related to Bradley's death and declined to comment on it.
Bradley attempted suicide in the jail Sept. 17, 2018, and was taken to a hospital for treatment before returning to the jail 10 days later. Bradley was diagnosed with depression and was on medication, according to the lawsuit.
Jail staff checked on Bradley at 7:11 p.m. Oct. 5, 2018, according to a review of his death by the Barnes County State's Attorney's Office. When visiting his cell 22 minutes later, staff did not see Bradley. When they returned three minutes later, they found him hanging in the bathroom.
The lawsuit alleges that upon Bradley's return to the jail after his suicide attempt, staff did not increase their observation of him. “Knowing that Lonny Bradley had attempted to kill himself while detained in the Barnes County Jail just ten days earlier and having received the email warning … correctional staff did not screen Lonny Bradley for suicide risk as required by the established and required Barnes County Jail policies and procedures,” the lawsuit states.
The 112-year-old Barnes County Jail sits across the street from Valley City High School. After a 2018 inspection found violations of state standards, the jail was downgraded to a Grade III detention center, meaning it can only hold inmates for up to four days.
McClaflin said Monday that he's trying to upgrade the jail to become a facility authorized to house inmates for up to 90 days. In the meantime, an architect has been hired to design a new jail, estimated to cost between $6 million and $11 million.
“We’re in the process of trying to build the new jail. We’re hoping a year or two,” the sheriff said.
Aaland said the jail building is not at fault for the poor treatment of his clients. He placed the blame on McClaflin and his staff.
The sheriff "would hang it all on, 'Oh we have an old facility,' but that isn’t what left Warren Lindvold screaming on the floor of his jail cell with a broken back for hours,” Aaland said. “It wasn’t the facility that allowed Lonnie Bradley to kill himself in the exact same manner he unsuccessfully tried weeks earlier.”
Aaland's lawsuits are seeking payments for damages suffered by the families of Lindvold and Bradley, but the amounts have not been specified.
“Family primarily wants the county to shape up so that other people don’t die as a result of their incompetence,” he said.