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The Nevada Independent

Nevada to pay $535K to family of man who died by suicide in state-run psychiatric facility

The family of Clinton Swaim filed a lawsuit alleging state employees were deliberately indifferent to his mental health needs before his 2019 suicide.
Eric Neugeboren
Eric Neugeboren
CourtsState Government

Nevada officials have approved a $535,000 settlement to the family of a former Washoe County sheriff’s deputy whose 2019 suicide while in state custody prompted a lawsuit that officials were deliberately indifferent to his mental health needs.

The family of Clinton Swaim, a deputy and U.S. Navy veteran with a history of bipolar disorder and depression, filed a federal lawsuit in 2021 against the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health (DPBH) — the agency that runs the Sparks facility where Swaim died by suicide — and several state employees who were charged with overseeing Swaim’s psychiatric care.

The Board of Examiners — a state panel consisting of the governor, attorney general and secretary of state — unanimously approved the settlement on Tuesday, two months after Swaim’s estate and state officials signed the agreement. Under the settlement terms, Swaim’s estate will receive nearly $320,000, with the rest going to their attorneys.

Swaim retired in 2019 after 22 years in the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office. He was an outdoorsman who loved camping, motorcycling, mountain biking, skiing and snowboarding, according to his obituary, which said “if it's cool, he did it; if he could ride it, he tried it.”

Nathan Lawrence, one of the lawyers representing Swaim’s estate, said in a statement Tuesday that the settlement would hopefully incentivize other state employees to better monitor people under their care.

“Although there is never truly any satisfaction for the tragic and untimely loss of a beloved family member, regardless of the circumstance, I believe we have achieved a measure of justice and closure for Mr. Swaim's wife and two children,” the statement said.

DPBH did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

According to court documents, Swaim was hospitalized in October 2019 after wandering disrobed through a Sparks parking lot and appearing confused. While hospitalized, Swaim grabbed a medical technician’s neck, prompting police officers to tackle and tase him, eventually charging him with a battery felony, according to the family’s lawsuit.

Following his arrest, Swaim was deemed incompetent to stand trial and admitted to the Lake’s Crossing Center — a maximum security psychiatric facility — where officials determined he must be monitored every 15 minutes by cameras and staff because he was at risk of suicide. He was later reclassified to a status requiring consistent observation of chest movements and physical condition during officer head counts and special watches. The policy also prohibits those on suicide watch from having any items in their rooms, except if there are written exceptions.

About a month later, Swaim died by suicide after hanging himself with a bedsheet. An investigation into his death concluded that Lake’s Crossing employees had “not consistently, if at all” conducted the mandated visual checks of Swaim’s condition and that the policy on room items did not appear to be followed because Swaim had extra bed linen in his room, among other apparent policy violations, according to the lawsuit.

The investigation also concluded that in the hours leading up to Swaim’s death, no employee entered Swaim’s room to check on his well-being, the lawsuit said. Camera footage also showed employees appearing to notice a noise from Swaim’s room around the time of his death but doing nothing.

The state moved to dismiss the case in 2022, arguing the lawsuit did not sufficiently prove what each of the named Lake’s Crossing employees did wrong. The state also said the lawsuit did not sufficiently prove that each named employee was deliberately indifferent to Swaim’s health, and that qualified immunity — which shields government employees from being sued unless their behavior violates “clearly established” statutory or constitutional rights — protected the employees.

The state ultimately agreed to settle the case to “avoid the costs of extensive discovery and a potential adverse large judgment,” according to settlement documents.

This marks the third month in a row where the Board of Examiners has approved a settlement. In March, the panel approved a $3.4 million payout to a former prisoner who received insufficient medical care, and in April, the board authorized a $1.35 million payout to a prisoner whose death spurred a wrongful death lawsuit.


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