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Family files wrongful-death suit over Wantagh man's Suffolk jail cell hanging

The Suffolk County jail in Riverhead on Thursday,

The Suffolk County jail in Riverhead on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015. Photo Credit: James Carbone

The family of a Wantagh man who hanged himself in the Suffolk County jail in Riverhead a year ago has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit, claiming the agencies who arrested and detained him should have known he was a suicide risk because of his past erratic behavior and run-ins with police.

Scott Yarwood, 34, was found hanging in his jail cell on Nov. 29, 2014, one day after he was arrested and charged with misdemeanor menacing and criminal mischief. He died four days later at Stony Brook University Hospital.

The suit was filed in state Supreme Court on Oct. 23 by his mother, Linda Yarwood of Lake Worth, Florida.

Representatives of Suffolk County and its police and sheriff's departments, named as defendants in the suit, declined to comment, citing policies on pending litigation.

Authorities knew about Yarwood's mental illness and suicidal tendencies from several prior arrests, said Manhattan attorney Laurence Jeffrey Weingard, representing the family.

Yarwood had been arrested on Aug. 7, 2014, and admitted to St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center in Smithtown "for treatment of the psychotic behavior he manifested at the time of the arrest," the suit states.

Yarwood was arrested again Nov. 22 after his sister called police, citing his "wild, violent and agitated state," according to the suit. She told police her brother had prior mental health problems and was suicidal.

When Yarwood was picked up a last time by police early on Nov. 28, he was acting "in a bizarre manner reflecting his disturbed mental state and suicidal condition," the suit states.

Yarwood was arraigned later that day and taken to the Riverhead jail. The lawsuit claims the sheriff's department failed to properly assess him as a suicide risk, and that police failed to advise jail staff of Yarwood's mental health problems and suicidal tendencies. Specifics about his mental illness aren't detailed in the suit.

"The egregious behavior on the part of the Suffolk County sheriff and his deputies, which caused Scott Yarwood's death, amounts to gross negligence and a flagrant violation of his civil rights," Weingard said. "We intend to pursue these claims until those rights have been vindicated."

Shortly after his death, sheriff's office chief of staff Michael Sharkey said Yarwood showed no signs of suicidal behavior.

"He didn't come in with any sort of red flag or notation from any sort of court document, or anything like that," Sharkey said. "He was only here for a day, and there was no indication here that there would be an issue."

Yarwood was alone and the cell door was closed, Sharkey said at the time, estimating that 15 minutes elapsed before he was found. Authorities said Yarwood used a laundry bag to hang himself.

The lawsuit also claims jail staff delayed in discovering Yarwood in his cell, and in trying to resuscitate him."There was a serious risk of harm of suicide to [Yarwood]," according to the lawsuit, and "the defendants ... failed to take obvious, reasonable steps to address that known, serious risk. "

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