Tara Cooper said her family must pursue litigation against Luzerne County to get to the bottom of the July suicide of her sister when she was a county prison inmate.
“We’ve exhausted every avenue to get answers and have no choice but to move forward with a legal lawsuit,” Cooper said.
Her sister, Tricia, was among four female inmate deaths between June and last month.
Cooper’s family had retained Kingston attorney Eugene Sperazza to represent its interests and conduct an initial investigation into the facts and circumstances surrounding the death.
“We obtained legal counsel, and still they refuse to be forthcoming about what happened,” Cooper said.
County Manager C. David Pedri said Thursday that he and prison officials voluntarily met with Tara Cooper and her attorney in an attempt to answer their questions. He said he cannot comment further.
In addition to Cooper, the deaths of two other inmates were ruled suicide by hanging: Brooke Griesing on June 8 and Hailey Povisil on Jan. 9. The July 7 death of Joan Rosengrant was ruled accidental; it was caused by the combined effect of prescription drugs complicated by her unspecified physical condition, officials determined.
Cooper said a timeline for the plans to sue is still being discussed. Litigation could force the county to provide more information as part of discovery, she said.
“This isn’t about money,” Cooper said. “We want the facts.”
Cooper said she is still haunted by the prison’s failure to notify her family that her sister was dying in the hospital after a suicide attempt.
Tricia Cooper was taken to the hospital July 25. Family members said they did not learn she was hospitalized until July 28, when Tara Cooper pieced together the information on her own after seeking a news article about an unnamed female inmate’s attempted suicide.
County Correctional Services Division Head Mark Rockovich has said the person identified as next of kin was contacted, but the contact number listed for this man was no longer accurate. As Cooper’s condition deteriorated, the facility was in the process of researching other relatives to notify when her sister contacted the facility, Rockovich said previously.
“For three days, she was alone in the hospital without family,” Cooper said. “I have to keep reliving it.”
In response to the deaths, county officials have been discussing options to prevent suicide attempts and address other concerns, including an increasing number of inmates withdrawing from opioids and battling mental health issues behind bars.
Pedri also recently announced the administration has recruited psychiatric professionals to perform an independent review of the four deaths.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.