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Nevada to pay $1.35M to family of prisoner whose suicide spurred wrongful death lawsuit

Melody Morgan died by suicide at a state-run prison in 2018, days after her mother had asked for her to be placed on suicide watch.
Eric Neugeboren
Eric Neugeboren
CourtsGovernmentState Government

Nevada will pay $1.35 million to the estate of a former prisoner whose 2018 suicide while incarcerated led to allegations of negligence and a wrongful death lawsuit.

Melody Morgan died by suicide at the age of 25 while incarcerated at the state-run Florence McClure Women's Correctional Center in North Las Vegas. She had suffered from seizures, migraines, bipolar disorder, multiple personality disorder and schizophrenia, and had three psychiatric hospitalizations, according to a wrongful death lawsuit filed in 2021 that described her as a creative person who was especially close with her mother and sister.

Days before Morgan’s suicide, she walked off the premises of Jean Conservation Camp — another state-run correctional facility for minimum custody prisoners — and Morgan’s mother warned a correctional officer that she should be placed on suicide watch. The lawsuit alleged that when Morgan was found and transferred to Florence McClure, correctional officers failed to adequately communicate the need to place Morgan on suicide watch, and nursing staff did not perform an intake screening.

The lawsuit — filed by Morgan’s mother and sister — alleged that prison officials “were deliberately indifferent” to her medical needs. They sought at least $150,000 and punitive damages from the state.

Nevada’s Board of Examiners — a state panel composed of the governor, attorney general and secretary of state — approved the settlement on Tuesday without comment, concluding years of legal battles between Morgan’s family and state officials. 

Under the settlement terms, Morgan’s family will receive $775,000, with the rest going directly to their counsel, Clark Hill PLC.

In a statement sent to The Nevada Independent on Wednesday, Morgan’s sister said the settlement “is by no means a substitute for the vibrant presence that my sister brought to our lives” and called for the state to adopt procedures to ensure the mental well-being of prisoners is “rigorously upheld to the highest standards.”

“No dollar amount of money will bring her back, but this settlement serves as a reflection that my sister's life had meaning,” the statement read. “I am grateful that this case is over so that my mother and I can move forward on our healing process.”

The Nevada Department of Corrections did not respond to a request for comment.

The state had previously argued that Morgan’s family did not have the grounds to sue for a violation of the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment — which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment — because they had not been incarcerated. Prison officials also had conflicting accounts of who was notified of the request to place Morgan on suicide watch.

Last year, a federal judge denied, in part, prison officials’ motion to dismiss the case, resulting in a December appeal to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. A settlement was reached earlier this year to avoid the cost of continued litigation and possible adverse judgment, according to settlement documents.

The settlement marks the latest in state payouts related to its prison system, and the second seven-figure settlement in as many months. 

Last month, the Board of Examiners approved a $3.4 million payout to a former prisoner who said he received insufficient medical care for years. The state also agreed to settlements of $2.25 million and $1.6 million last year to prisoners who were blinded and killed by the use of birdshot rounds, a type of ammunition typically used in hunting birds or small game.

Updated on 4/10/24 at 9:10 a.m. to include a statement from Morgan’s sister.


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