Slain Mich. jail corporal's family sues sheriff's office for wrongful death
Lawsuit contends conditions in the jail demonstrate a willful, wanton disregard for the safety of officers, inmates and the public
By Hannah Mackay
The Detroit News
WAYNE COUNTY, Mich. — The family of Wayne County Sheriff's Cpl. Bryant Searcy, who was murdered while on duty by a 28-year-old inmate in the Wayne County Jail, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the sheriff's office and jail staff.
Searcy was strangled while working a 16-hour, overtime shift on the night of Sep. 2, 2020. The assailant, Deandre Williams, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 50-75 years in prison.
Robert Mullen, the attorney representing Searcy's family, said conditions in the jail demonstrate a willful, wanton disregard for the safety of officers, inmates and the public on the part of the sheriff's office and jail officials.
"There's no way that you can mismanage a jail like Wayne County has by accident," Mullen said. "This is a pattern and practice of how they want to operate and how they chose to operate this jail."
The civil suit names Robert Dunlap, chief of courts and jails for the sheriff's office, Daniel Pfannes, deputy director for the Michigan sheriffs' association, county Executive Warren Evans, Sheriff Raphael Washington and the estate of former Sheriff Benny Napoleon as defendants, in addition to Wayne County and the sheriff's office. The Wayne County Sheriff's Office had not been served with the lawsuit as of late Wednesday morning and declined to comment.
Mullen said the jail has been dangerously understaffed for several years due to artificially low wages, forcing corrections officers to work overtime as a result. He also said security cameras didn't work properly and neither did the locks on inmate cells.
"Running a jail is one of the core public functions that government provides," Mullen said. "This is a sad state of the jail that they're holding these criminals in. The officers aren't safe, the citizenry isn't safe and the public at large are not safe."
A state investigation into the incident revealed that Searcy had split up with his partner to complete a floor lock-up. After closing the door to a single cell unitm Searcy moved on, believing the door to be locked. It was not and Williams escaped and killed him.
The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration proposed fining the Wayne County Sheriff's Office $8,000 for safety violations in connection with the incident.
"When you talk about cameras and locks, these are the most fundamental, basic things of running a safe jail," Mullen said.
Searcy's family filed the lawsuit Tuesday and is requesting a trial by jury in Wayne County Circuit Court.
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