In February 2013, Bradley Scarpi, an inmate in the St. Clair County Jail, screamed expletives into the face of a visibly terrified teenager. Filmed by Fox2's cameras
, Scarpi was participating in the jail's "Scared Straight" program. With a rap sheet that included more than a dozen jail stints and a bald head covered in tattoos, Scarpi certainly looked the part — a cautionary example of where a path of crime could lead.
One year later, on the night of May 23, 2014, that same path led Scarpi to his death. The 33-year-old inmate twisted a noose from a length of bed sheet, and guards found him hanging from his jail bars. Less than hour later, he was pronounced dead
at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Belleville.
"There is systemic failure within the jail," says attorney Vanessa del Valle, who is part of a team of lawyers representing Scarpi's estate in a federal wrongful death lawsuit
filed last week. "They do not have adequate mental health resources or medical resources to really protect inmates who suffer from mental illness."
The lawsuit lays the blame for Scarpi's death at the feet of St. Clair County Sheriff Rick Watson and thirteen jail officials, alleging they should have known Scarpi required supervision as a suicide risk but failed to protect him.
According to the lawsuit, Scarpi developed an addiction to painkillers after suffering a job-related back injury. The addiction fueled an eleven-year cycle of crime and jail time that culminated in a 2014 arrest
for home invasion and armed robbery.
Five hours before he was discovered dead in his cell, Scarpi allegedly told officers that he was being threatened by other inmates. He requested a transfer to a different cell block.
After he was moved to the E-Max cell block, the lawsuit claims Scarpi voiced his intention to commit suicide to Officer Christopher Lanzante. Two other inmates in the cell block overheard Lanzante respond, “Whatever. Do what you want to do” before walking away, say Scarpi's lawyers.
Scarpi wasn't the only inmate to attempt suicide that weekend in 2014. Sheriff Rick Watson told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
guards were able to prevent four other suicides over a five-day stretch that included Memorial Day.
Scarpi's lawsuit is being handled by lawyers at the MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern University and Belleville attorney Latoya Berry. This isn't the only wrongful death lawsuit pending against the jail in federal court: In March, the Justice Center's lawyers accused jail employees of beating inmate Joshua Jurcich and failing to prevent his March 2014 suicide.
The conditions in the jail are "horrific," says del Valle. The Scarpi lawsuit describes filthy toilets and sinks, with inmates denied cleaning materials and forced to sleep on the floor.
In an interview with the Belleville News-Democrat
, Sheriff Rick Watson said he reviewed both Scarpi's and Jurcich's files and determined that the county followed all suicide prevention rules, procedures and statutes. According to Watson, guards conduct cell checks every fifteen minutes on inmates suspected of being suicidal.
However, Watson told the newspaper that there were no indicators that Scarpi and Jurcich intended to kill themselves.
“There’s nothing that said we needed to watch this person more than we needed according to statute,” Watson said. He added, "We don’t want this to happen ... We’ll do everything we can to help you. We do everything we can to do a good job.”
Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at @D_ Towski. E-mail the author at [email protected]