SPRINGFIELD — The suicide of a former Clinton woman at the Sangamon County jail and her treatment while housed at a Logan County prison are the focus of two federal lawsuits filed Monday by her family.
"First they tortured her, then they killed her," Chicago attorney Alan Mills said in a statement on the treatment Tiffany Rusher allegedly received during her time in the Logan County Correctional Center and the Springfield jail where she died in March 2017.
The pair of lawsuits filed by lawyers on behalf of Rusher's mother Kelli Andrews in U.S. District Court in Springfield involve Rusher's incarceration in the Department of Corrections starting in 2013 and ending with her suicide in the jail.
"Tiffany was a beautiful soul with hopes for her future. She was looking forward to coming home to be with her family," the victim's mother said in a statement from Mills and co-counsel Ali Chardon and the Northside Transformative Law Center in Chicago.
The Department of Corrections declined comment on the pending lawsuit and the Sangamon County Sheriff's Department did not respond to requests for comment on the lawsuits, which seek unspecified damages.
Rusher, 27, began to harm herself in the women's prison after she was placed in solitary confinement. There she was repeatedly strapped to a bed and eventually put in an isolation cell for the final eight months of her sentence on sex abuse charges, according to the lawsuit.
The harsh prison conditions caused Rusher's mental health to deteriorate to the point that she was transferred directly to the state-run McFarland Mental Health Center, Springfield, in May 2016 after her sentence was served, said the lawsuit.
In addition to the IDOC and several corrections officials, the lawsuit also names prison health care provider Wexford Health Sources Inc.
The civil action alleges that in September 2015, after one of several suicide attempts, Rusher was placed on "constant watch" in a crisis cell at Logan where her clothing was replaced with an anti-suicide smock she wore in a room devoid of all property except a metal toilet and a raised concrete slab for a bed.
The hospital-level care prison staff concluded what Rusher needed is not available in Illinois and brief group therapy sessions did not alleviate the severe damage done by the isolation, noted the lawsuit.
In the mother's lawsuit against Sangamon County, its Sheriff Wes Barr, jail Superintendent Larry Beck Jr. and several staff members, lawyers link the stress of another stay in solitary confinement to the victim's death.
Rusher was taken to the jail on Dec. 8, 2016, on a battery charge related to her stay at the mental hospital.
She was a high risk for suicide at the jail but still was placed in solitary confinement for three months, said the lawsuit. She was found asphyxiated in her cell on March 18, 2017, and died in the hospital 12 days later.
Jail officials were aware of Rusher's 10 suicide attempts and at least 27 instances of self-harm in prison and similar conduct at the state mental facility, according to the lawsuit, in addition to her extensive mental health diagnosis.
Court documents outline separate incidents in the jail in which Rusher tried to strangle herself and swallow a toothbrush, a whole apple core, mattress stuffing and a plastic bag before she was found unresponsive in her cell with a strip of towel wrapped tightly around her neck.
Jail staff failed to protect Rusher and provide her with appropriate mental health care for her condition, said the lawsuit.
The Illinois State Police is investigating Rusher's death.