County, family will meet to solve civil rights lawsuit

Representatives of Blair County and Deborah A. Beckwith of Altoona will meet in an attempt to resolve a federal civil rights lawsuit concerning the suicide death of Samantha R. Beckwith, who died in the county prison nearly 18 months ago.

Deborah Beckwith is the admininstratrix of her daughter’s estate, and has filed a lawsuit in the Federal District Court in Johnstown on behalf of Samantha’s two young children, charging that county officials and the provider of medical care for inmates of the prison, PrimeCare Medical Inc. of Harrisburg, failed to properly address the daughter’s mental health issues after she was incarcerated in September 2016.

Samantha, 23, took her life while in her cell at the Blair County Prison on Oct. 24, 2016, becoming the fourth inmate in a nine-year period to commit suicide while in the facility.

Since her death, another suicide has occurred, that of a male inmate in August 2017.

The lawsuit contends the county and its medical care provider violated Saman­tha’s Eighth Amendment rights barring cruel and unusual punishment, and the Fourteenth Amendment to procedural due process.

The civil lawsuit also charges PrimeCare with professional negligence and corporate negligence.

While the lawsuit is proceeding toward trial with the filing of an amended complaint by Beckwith attorney George M. Kontos of Pitts­burgh, and answers to the lawsuit from county attorney Suzanne B. Merrick of Pittsburgh and PrimeCare attorney John R. Ninosky of Camp Hill, the federal judge presiding in Johnstown, Kim R. Gibson, on March 26 ordered the case placed in the Alternative Dispute Resolution program.

The parties selected mediation as a possible way to resolve the case prior to trial.

Gibson was informed Thursday that mediation will be conducted by attorney Kenneth Benson in Pittsburgh.

The judge has ruled that the insurance company representative for the county can participate by telephone if the mediator agrees.

The hotly-contested lawsuit claims that Samantha Beckwith suffered mental health issues that county prison officials and PrimeCare should have been aware of because of her prior incarcerations.

Yet, according to the lawsuit, PrimeCare did not provide her with needed medication after her admission to the prison in September 2016.

Samantha, it is alleged, told a prison employee she intended to commit suicide.

County officials contend the plaintiff has failed to state valid legal claims against it and plaintiffs that include former Warden Michael Johnston and Deputy Warden Randy Pollock, and pointed out that PrimeCare, contracted by the county to provide medical care to inmates, and did so “in a professional and reasonable manner.”

PrimeCare stated recently Samantha Beckwith was not on medication when she arrived at the prison, and noted no evidence has been presented as to who she allegedly told of her intent to commit suicide.

The company stated the care provided to the inmates “meet or exceed all national accreditation standards.”