Clearfield County and Jefferson County jails are being sued in federal court for the suicide death of an inmate at the Clearfield County Jail in March 2019.
Michael Duffalo, 38, of Brockway was housed in the Clearfield County Jail when he hung himself, three days after his birthday on March 10, 2019. Mikayla Duffalo has filed a civil rights lawsuit on behalf of the family in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania in Johnstown.
The lawsuit states damages exceed $100,000.
In addition to the two jails, the lawsuit names as defendants former Clearfield County Jail Warden Gregory Collins, former Warden Thomas Elbel of the Jefferson County Jail, two unnamed correction officers at the Clearfield County Jail, two unnamed corrections officers at the Jefferson County Jail, two unnamed state troopers from the Punxsutawney barracks, and two unnamed Jefferson County sheriff’s officers.
Collins was the warden of the Clearfield County Jail at the time of Duffalo’s death. He resigned his position after 28 years of service at the jail in March 2020, according to a previous article in The Progress, a partner publication of The Courier Express.
The lawsuit alleges Mark Duffalo’s Fourth, Eighth and 14th Amendment rights were violated.
“This case arises out of the permanent injuries and death suffered by Michael J. Duffalo as a result of the deliberative indifference to his obvious medical needs,” the lawsuit states. “As a result of the defendants’ conduct, the decedent suffered great pain and death.”
The law firm of Mark B. Frost & Associates of Philadelphia are representing Mikayla Duffalo.
The Progress asked the Clearfield County Commissioners if they could comment on the lawsuit. Clearfield County Commissioner John Sobel said they could not on the advice of their legal counsel.
“We don’t really have a comment at this time. We don’t know exactly what is going on and the jail hasn’t officially been served,” Jefferson County Warden Dustin Myers told The Courier Express.
According to the complaint, on March 4, 2019, state troopers responded to a domestic incident at Michael Duffalo’s residence in Brockway. During the incident, Michael Duffalo allegedly held a knife to his head and threatened to kill himself and suffered a mental breakdown.
Upon arrival, troopers found Michael Duffalo in an incoherent and disgruntled state and allegedly suffering from a mental breakdown and was in need of medical treatment.
Duffalo was tased by troopers/sheriff officers and taken into custody.
Instead of taking Michael Duffalo to a medical facility for treatment, he was brought to the Jefferson County Jail where he didn’t receive any treatment for his mental status and didn’t receive a suicide screening, according to the complaint.
While he was in the Jefferson County Jail, it was discovered Michael Duffalo had a warrant for his arrest in Clearfield County for failing to appear for a court hearing on misdemeanor theft charges.
On March 5, Michael Duffalo was transported to the Clearfield County Jail.
The complaint alleges Jefferson County did not inform Clearfield County officials of Michael Duffalo’s mental problems and his need of medical treatment.
When he was placed in the Clearfield County Jail, Michael Duffalo was not given a mental health evaluation or a suicide screening, the complaint states.
According to the complaint, the Clearfield County Jail was overcrowded at the time and instead of being placed in a cell, he was placed in a common area where he was not provided with a bed, bedding or clothing.
“In fact, the decedent was forced to sleep on the floor with a sheet and even used the underwear of another inmate to keep his head warm; these conditions persisted throughout decedent’s incarceration,” the complaint states.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Clearfield County Jail was often overcrowded, according to previous articles in The Progress.
Michael Duffalo’s poor living conditions worsened his mental illness, which became even more obvious to corrections officers, the complaint alleges.
On March 10 at approximately 6 a.m., corrections officers performed a routine prisoner count. Within one hour, Michael Duffalo was found dead, hanging from a bed sheet tied to the ceiling in the common area where he was housed.
It was discovered Duffalo had removed a ceiling tile covering a metal bar, which was well within his reach to hang himself.
U.S. District Judge Kim R. Gibson of the U.S. District Court in Johnstown referred the lawsuit for review under the Alternative Dispute Resolution program.