Family sues Charleston police after man hangs self in custody

CHARLESTON -- The family of a man who hanged himself while in police custody in 2008 is suing the Charleston Police Department, claiming the officers were negligent in not removing the drawstring from his sweatshirt before putting him in a holding cell.

Patrolman R.J. Welsh and an unidentified officer were also named as defendants in the suit.

On Oct. 26, 2008, Matthew Wayne Walker died, five days after he was found with one end of the drawstring from his sweatshirt tied to a bar in his cell and the other end around his neck, according to a complaint filed Oct. 18 in Kanawha Circuit Court.

Walker's family claims the police had a duty to prevent him from hurting himself while in their custody and to monitor him while he was in their custody.

The defendants knew or should have known that inmates such as Walker might possess items or contraband that they could use to harm themselves, according to the suit.

On Oct. 21, 2008, Walker was arrested after police pulled him over while investigating a domestic dispute. The incident was determined to be a verbal argument, but Walker's drivers' license had been revoked following a DUI conviction, so he was taken back to the station and put in a holding cell while his booking was being processed.

Walker's family is seeking compensatory and punitive damages. They are being represented by Charleston attorney Paul Stroebel.

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