Fairbanks man sues Corrections Department over son's suicide

Posted: Thursday, January 24, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The father of a man who attempted suicide while being booked into the Fairbanks Correctional Center in May has filed lawsuit charging the Department of Corrections with negligence.

Stacey James, 38, was being booked on a charge of attempted first-degree sexual assault on May 10 and tried to hang himself. He died of those injuries May 14 at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital.

The lawsuit, filed Jan. 16 by James' father, Skully James, on behalf of himself, his wife and his son's estate, is seeking more than $60,000 in damages for the loss of their son's ''support, care, maintenance, love, affection and companionship'' and more than $60,000 more for the pain and suffering endured by their son in the four days between his suicide attempt and his death.

James had been arrested early in the evening May 10. Police said he attempted to rape a woman in a wooded area near Denali Elementary School.

According to police, a witness saw James follow the woman into the woods at about 7 p.m., throw her down and start pulling her pants off. Another witness called police, who arrived to find the woman screaming and fighting James off.

According to his lawyers, James was an iron worker originally from Fort Yukon. He had a history of 47 criminal cases, including a 1989 conviction for second-degree sexual assault, court records say.

The lawsuit was filed against the state and Department of Corrections Commissioner Margaret Pugh. It charges the department with failing to provide adequate monitoring for James, putting him in a cell that offered him the opportunity to hang himself and failing to take away the unidentified item with which he hanged himself.

Attorney Allen Vacura said that prison staff has a duty to protect inmates from themselves, noting that some may be in fragile emotional states. ''When you're charged with a serious crime ... it can be a very emotional situation,'' he said.

Bruce Richards, special assistant to Pugh, had no comment on the death following the filing of the lawsuit.

Before the litigation was filed, Richards had said James was only at the prison for 25 minutes when he made the suicide attempt. Richards said James had just exchanged his clothing for standard-issue prison garb and told guards he wanted to call his attorney.

State officials have not revealed where James was when he attempted to hang himself or how he did it.

Guards began performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation as soon as they found James, and he was rushed to the hospital, Richards said.

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