Nitro Police named in wrongful death suit from jail suicide

By Lawrence Smith | Jun 16, 2010

CHARLESTON - A lawsuit alleges the Nitro Police Department is responsible for the death of a Kentucky man who committed suicide while in custody.

Tracy Cooper filed a wrongful death suit against NPD in Kanawha Circuit Court. In her handwritten complaint filed June 7, Cooper, of Worthington, Ky., alleges NPD did not take the necessary precautions to prevent her ex-husband, Nelson, from hanging himself following his arrest two years ago.

According to her complaint, Cooper says both she and Nelson went to the Tri-State Casino and Resort on June 6, 2008. When they prepared to leave, Cooper demanded she drive the car because Nelson "had drank to [sic] much and clearly could not drive."

Though recently divorced at the time, Cooper says she and Nelson still were living together.

Following an argument, Cooper "called the police for his safety and others so he wouldn't be on the road." Eventually, he got into his car and drove away, but he later was stopped and arrested for DUI and fleeing from police.

At a time not specified in her complaint, Cooper says she filled out a police report. Later, her mother picked her up and took her home.

No sooner did they arrive home early the next morning than did they receive a call from NPD saying "there had been an accident." Specifically, Cooper says she was told Nelson "hung hisself [sic] with his shoelaces" while in one of NPD's holding cells.

Befuddled, Cooper asked if NPD was supposed to take both a detainee's belt and shoelaces. An unidentified officer told her they only took Nelson's belt.

When she went to pick up his body, Cooper said Nelson's arm "looked like a mop wrung out." Also, she told NPD that Nelson, 40, had been depressed.

Following Nelson's death, Cooper said she approached an attorney about filing a possible lawsuit. The attorney, Cooper said, suggested she get another attorney after investigating the matter for 18 months.

The name of the attorney is not identified in court records.

Nevertheless, Cooper says the first attorney told her to "definitely get representation." When she couldn't, she file the suit pro se to avoid missing the two-year statute of limitations.

In her suit, Cooper says Nelson's death was preventable.

"They [NPD] should have took [sic] them [the shoelaces] from him along with his belt. It they would of did [sic] their job, he would still be alive."

Cooper seeks unspecified damages. The case is assigned to Judge Paul Zakaib.

Kanawha Circuit Court case number 10-C-1016

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