By Brittany Hailer
Content warning: this story includes topics of suicide, suicidal ideation and self-harm
A year after he was found unresponsive in the Allegheny County Jail, Martin Bucek’s ex-wife, Dolly Bucek, filed a civil rights lawsuit against the county in federal court.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday, says Martin Bucek, 55, killed himself inside the jail on July 3, 2021, and that the jail failed to prevent his suicide. Martin Bucek had a documented history of suicidal attempts and serious mental illness, according to the complaint.
Of the 14 men who have died after entering the Allegheny County Jail since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, this is the first death that has resulted in a civil lawsuit.
The Pittsburgh Institute for Nonprofit Journalism learned of Martin Bucek’s collapse inside the Allegheny County Jail from incarcerated persons last year when they reported that Martin Bucek was found unresponsive with food lodged in his throat. At the time, his ex-wife, Dolly Bucek called for an investigation into her husband’s death.
According to the complaint filed in the case, Martin Bucek suffered from schizoaffective disorder and generalized anxiety disorder and had a history of suicidal tendencies.
The lawsuit filed against the county, Warden Orlando Harper and former Chief Deputy Warden Laura Williams alleges that Martin Bucek suffered injuries as a result of defective jail policy and procedures, including, but not limited to: inadequate supervision of incarcerated persons with medical problems, failure to require proper medical care to incarcerated persons who are suicidal, and failure to adequately supervise correctional staff in providing medical care.
Allegheny County Spokeswoman Amie Downs said as a matter of policy, the county does not comment on litigation.
On June 18, 2021, Martin Bucek attempted to kill himself and sought treatment at UPMC Presbyterian, according to the lawsuit. On June 22, 2021, Martin Bucek received treatment at St. Clair Hospital where he “repeatedly stated he wanted to kill himself” and requested to be admitted to the psychiatric unit, according to the complaint. Martin Bucek assaulted a St. Clair staff nurse that same day. On June 24, 2021, he was arrested and sent to the Allegheny County Jail.
The lawsuit says that Martin Bucek informed jail staff of his suicidal thoughts and previous suicide attempts. Despite this, he was admitted to the jail under regular observation status, rather than being placed on a suicide watch.
According to the complaint, Martin Bucek’s jail medical records show that he “endorsed suicidal ideation” was “very depressed, felt hopeless and was experiencing panic attacks and auditory hallucinations (including commands).” On June 25, 2021, the complaint alleges that Martin Bucek was placed on suicide watch, and then was released a day later.
Jail employees noted that Martin Bucek’s right hand appeared to be bleeding, “as he had been continuously banging his cell door since arrival on the unit” and psychiatric personnel evaluated him for “agitated behaviors, including a self-inflicted eye injury,” according to the complaint.
Martin Bucek’s self-inflicted injuries continued, including hitting his head, and “violently poked a spoon multiple times in both ears which caused bleeding,” the complaint says. Despite this, Martin Bucek was not moved to suicide watch despite his self-harming behavior, according to the lawsuit.
Martin Bucek was found unresponsive in his cell with food lodged in this throat on July 3, 2021.
The Allegheny County Medical Examiner ruled Martin Bucek’s cause of death as asphyxia due to airway obstruction by food. The manner of his death was undetermined.
However, before Martin Bucek’s autopsy was completed, Williams told the Jail Oversight Board in August 2021, “We can confirm [Martin Bucek] was held on … the acute mental health unit. We can indicate that it was not ruled to be a suicide at all.”
“He was suicidal,” Dolly Bucek said in a previous interview with PINJ at the time of her husband’s death. ”He’d slit his wrists and he must have been off his meds. He never should have been sent to that jail. He should have been kept at a hospital or mental health facility … I will not give up until I find answers. I am going to fight for all the other families. They’re human beings and the jail administration needs to know that.”
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a hotline for individuals in crisis or for those looking to help someone else. To speak with a certified listener, call 1-800-273-8255.
If you have any information about a death at the Allegheny County Jail, contact Brittany Hailer at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BrittanyHailer.