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Family Of Trayvon Martin Protester Who Hanged Herself In Juvenile Hall Gets $1 Million
The family of a teenage girl who hanged herself in a San Diego County juvenile hall has been granted a $1 million settlement, and the County vowed they're making changes to prevent anything like this from happening again. Rosemary Summers was only 16 years old on the evening of Sept. 27, 2013 when she hanged herself with a sheet at the Girls Rehabilitation Facility, a wing of San Diego County's juvenile hall, in Kearny Mesa. Rosemary died in a nearby hospital four days later when her family made the decision to take her off life support. The lawsuit filed after her death by her parents, Cheyenne Chanterelle and Arthur Summers, accused the staff of lacking proper mental health training and of not keeping an eye on Rosemary, even though she had made her thoughts of suicide abundantly clear, the L.A. Times reports. At one point, Rosemary passed a note to staff that read, "I feel like I want to hurt myself. I just wanna go to sleep and not wake up."
The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to settle the lawsuit this week in the amount of $1 million. County spokesperson Michael Clock said that they are making changes, including training and hiring staff, to prevent other tragedies.
Rosemary had become a ward of the court when she was 14 years old after she was accused of being drunk in public and disobeying authority. She went to juvenile hall for the first time at age 15 after being charged with possession of marijuana and resisting arrest, according to City Beat San Diego. She was diagnosed with a variety of mental illnesses, including depression and anxiety, and had expressed an interest in self-harm and suicide numerous times. She was also a victim of sexual assault. She was ultimately prescribed mood-altering drugs, which her family's attorney said only worsened her condition.
At 16, Rosemary was sent to juvenile hall again for going to a rally protesting the shooting death of Trayvon Martin without first telling her probation officer.
The facility is run by the County's Probation Department, and the wing where Rosemary resided has a capacity of 50 girls, though according to City Beat, there were about 34 girls living there at a time through most of 2013. Unlike other parts of juvenile hall, the cell doors here do not lock and there are some decorations in common areas to make the hall feel more like a home.
On the evening Rosemary hanged herself, she had gotten into an argument with other girls at the facility, causing staff to take away a leadership position she had previously been given. She later went to her room, and intentionally tried to prevent staff—who are required to do safety checks every 15 minutes— from seeing into her room by putting a piece of paper over the cell's window. She also tied a bed sheet from the door's knob to her bunk to try to keep staff out, meaning they had to force their way into her room. Once the staff managed to get inside and saw that she had hanged herself, it took them several minutes to find something to cut the sheet with, according to an internal review conducted by the Probation Department. And according to paralegal Stephanie Powell, who worked on the family's case, the first two female staff members to enter the room couldn't support Rosemary's body weight or untie the sheet.
"So, she's still hanging with her body weight while all of this is going on. Finally, a male officer comes in, and he's tall enough and strong enough that he's able to cut her down," Powell said.
Though rescuers were able to revive Rosemay's pulse, she'd simply been without oxygen for too long to survive.
According to the family's attorney, Gerald Singleton, a note was found among Rosemary's possessions that said, "When a kid asks to speak to a counselor they should be allowed to do so," Singleton said.
Singleton told 10 News that the staff knew about Rosemary's thoughts.
"They didn't misdiagnose her, they just didn't treat her. All they did was give her these different drugs, one of which, Ability, has been linked to suicidal ideation in teenagers."
Powell echoed these statements, saying that she found records indicating that on multiple occasions when Rosemary had asked to see a counselor, she'd been sent to a nurse or probation officer instead, or ignored.
In a memorial fundraising page set up by Rosemary's mother Chanterelle, she writes, "Rosemary Summers is one of the brightest spirits this world has ever known!! She touched so many lives in her short years here on earth with her infectious smile and loving heart!!"
If someone you know exhibits warning signs of suicide: do not leave the person alone, remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt, and call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional.