LAFAYETTE, La. (CN) - Twenty-six people have died in Louisiana's Lafayette Parish jail since 2000 - one death every six months, the latest being a man who spent 16 days in solitary on a misdemeanor for which he never was booked, his family claims in Federal Court.
Phillip Howard Jr. sued Lafayette Parish Sheriff Michael W. Neustrom and his employee Rob Reardon, the parish's director of corrections, for the wrongful death and false imprisonment of his nephew, John Horace Howard Jr.
A parish is Louisiana's version of a county. Lafayette is in Cajun country in south central Louisiana.
John Howard was arrested on misdemeanor charges on Nov. 29, 2012, and taken to the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center for booking. Howard "was exhibiting bizarre behavior, which continued until the time of his death," according to his uncle's lawsuit.
On Dec. 15, John Howard was found unresponsive in the cell.
"Despite the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center policy of immediately booking and releasing individuals charged with misdemeanor offenses, John Horace Howard Jr. was held without bond, and without being booked or charged for a period of sixteen days," his uncle says.
John Howard "had a history of mental and physical illness well documented in the medical and institutional records of the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center," according to the complaint.
When he died, he "was allegedly being held pending a mental illness evaluation," his uncle says.
"Since Michael W. Neustrom has taken office as sheriff for Lafayette Parish in 2002 there have been approximately twenty-six in-custody deaths, or approximately one every six months," the lawsuit states.
Phillip Howard seeks compensatory and punitive damages for wrongful death, false imprisonment, negligence, deliberate indifference and constitutional violations.
He is represented by L. Clayton Burgess of Lafayette.
Lafayette, pop. 115,000, the parish county seat, is 62 percent white, 31 percent black and 4 percent Latino, according to city-data.com.
Nine hundred and six inmates died in U.S. jails in 2008, according to a December 2011 report
from the U.S. Department of Justice -a rate of 127 deaths per 100,000 inmates.
"The number of inmate deaths in jails increased each year between 2000 and 2007 (from 904 to 1,102 inmate deaths), increasing 22 percent during this period," according to the Justice Department report, "Prison and Jail Deaths in Custody, 2000-2009 - Statistical Tables."
The Baltimore Sun reported in 2006 that 7,000 inmates die in U.S. jails and prisons each year, most of them "from mental disorders left undiagnosed and diseases left untreated."
Sheriff Neustrom says on his web page
: "Louisiana ranks number one in incarceration not only in the U.S., but in the entire world per capita.
"In Louisiana, one out of every 55 persons are incarcerated. Comparably, Maine is the lowest with one in every 238."
The Lafayette Parish Correctional Center, where John Howard died, has a capacity of 954 inmates, and is at or near capacity almost all the time, according to the sheriff.
The total number of inmates who pass through each year is not stated.