A lawsuit against one of the world’s largest managers of private prisons, Geo Group Inc., alleges the company and other defendants violated a 21-year-old prison detainee’s 14th Amendment right to due process by acting with "deliberate and conscious indifference" to his health and safety.
The national law firm of Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman filed a wrongful death lawsuit today on behalf of Jennifer Guadarrama, a mother who alleges numerous failures by private prison giant Geo Group, Inc. at the Val Verde Correctional Facility in Del Rio, Texas led to her son’s preventable suicide.
Keegan G. Killin was 21 years old when he died alone by hanging himself on March 13, 2021. At the time, he was a pretrial detainee held at Val Verde Correctional Facility for 15 months without a conviction. He was not a serial criminal nor a violent offender. Attorneys say Killin had a documented history of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and had previously attempted suicide, yet was placed in solitary confinement without justification, monitoring, or proper treatment.
Despite Killin’s documented mental health concerns, fragile condition with night terrors, and the abundance of medical studies highlighting the high risk of suicide in solitary, the defendants allegedly gave or allowed Killin to have:
- Psychotropic drugs known to cause suicide;
- Tools to kill himself, including tie-offs, bunk beds, razors, and shoestrings;
- Access to homemade wine.
Baum Hedlund attorneys Stephanie B. Sherman and Monique Alarcon filed the complaint (case no. 2:22-cv-00032) in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, Del Rio Division, alleging negligence and civil rights violations resulted in the death of Keegan Killin. The lawsuit also seeks punitive damages alleging the following defendants were aware of the high risk for suicide among prison inmates and consciously ignored this risk and helped facilitate Keegan Killin’s unnecessary death:
- The Geo Group, Inc. of Boca Raton, Florida – The owner and operator of Val Verde Correctional Facility. Designated healthcare and mental healthcare provider at the prison. Geo Group reported over $2 billion in earnings for 2021.
- Val Verde County, Texas – Designated and delegated Geo Group to provide healthcare and mental healthcare at Val Verde Correctional Facility.
- Christopher Martinez, Contracted by Geo Group as the Warden at Val Verde Correctional Facility
- Antonio Cadena, Jr. M.D. – Contracted by Geo Group as Medical Director at Val Verde Correctional Facility
- Jether C. Farino, M.D. – Contracted by Geo Group as Psychiatrist at Val Verde Correctional Facility
- Jessica Beachkofsky, M.D. – Contracted by Geo Group as Psychiatrist at Val Verde Correctional Facility
- Magdalene D. Garza, M.D. – Contracted by Geo Group as Psychiatrist at Val Verde Correctional Facility
“The defendants knew this young man had a history of PTSD and had previously attempted suicide,” says Baum Hedlund shareholder and attorney, Stephanie Sherman. “They knew he wasn’t sleeping. They knew he was dealing with a myriad of serious mental health issues and had been on and off of several medications. And yet they chose to lock him up by himself knowing that he would only be observed just a few seconds every 30 minutes. Think about how little you would have to care about a person to know they are incredibly vulnerable to self-harm and your response is to isolate them and actually give them what they need to take their own life. The lack of humanity in this case is appalling.”
The wrongful death lawsuit alleges the defendants violated Keegan Killin’s 14th Amendment right to due process by acting with "deliberate and conscious indifference" to his health and safety. The complaint also includes negligence allegations against GEO Group, Dr. Cadena, and the psychiatrist defendants.
The Preventable Death of Keegan Killin
The following are allegations only. There has been no determination of liability in this case.
Keegan Gage Killin was born on July 6, 1999. During childhood, Keegan lived in Del Rio, Corpus Christi, and San Antonio, Texas with his family. His parents were divorced when he was four years old. He had a documented history of physical and sexual abuse while he was a child.
The series of events that preceded Killin’s unnecessary death began in April of 2019 when he was arrested for an alleged conspiracy to transport "illegal aliens". Prior to this arrest, Killin did not have a significant criminal history other than minor infractions as a teen. The arrest propelled Killin to get his life together. He hired a law firm to do a warrant search to prepare for his application to Gary Job Corp, a life skills and vocational training program. When no warrants came up, he joined Gary Job Corps and moved to San Marcos, Texas.
In November of 2019, the Department of Homeland Security arrested and booked Killin into the Bastrop County prison in Bastrop, Texas. He was briefly transferred to Karnes County Correction Facility, another Geo Group owned and operated prison. At Karnes, Killin completed a Mental Health Evaluation wherein he noted that he had been diagnosed with insomnia, anxiety, depression, and PTSD, and was taking Trazodone. While at Karnes, Killin noted during a History and Physical Assessment that his Trazodone prescription was wrong, and that he was only getting four hours of sleep.
In December of 2019, Killin was transferred to Val Verde Correctional Facility, where he remained a pre-trial detainee until his death. Upon his arrival, Val Verde Correctional Facility medical director Antonio Cadena, Jr. M.D., noted on Killin’s transfer papers that he had PTSD and should be referred to “psych.” A day later on his Mental Health Evaluation, it was noted that Killin was a victim of childhood domestic abuse, was sleeping only three hours a night, and was having flashbacks with nightmares -- all symptoms of PTSD. An intern who conducted the evaluation also checked the box for previous suicide attempt.
After the evaluation, it was over a month before Killin received any mental health care services. In January of 2020, Dr. Farino diagnosed Killin with PTSD and noted his previous suicide attempt. Dr. Farino put Killin on Zoloft (sertraline) and Trazodone but did not initiate a psychiatric follow up in four-to-six weeks, which is protocol for prescribing Zoloft. Dr. Farino also did not refer Killin to a psychologist, social worker, or mental health counselor for psychotherapy.
In the months that followed, Killin received only one telehealth visit over the phone. He was prescribed Prosazin, which is sometimes used off label to reduce PTSD associated nightmares.
In July of 2020, Magdalene Garza, M.D., saw Killin via telehealth for medication management, though no changes were made to his prescriptions.
In October of 2020, Dr. Garza discontinued all of Keegan’s psychiatric medications, Prozasin, Zoloft, and Trazodone, with no plan or bridge of treatment for Killin following the sudden discontinuation. There are no notes reflecting the reason for the medication discontinuation or that the risks of discontinuation were discussed with Killin.
Between October of 2020 and March 2, 2021, Killin was not on any psychiatric medications for his mental illnesses and was not receiving any psychotherapy, which is the first line of treatment for PTSD. He was assigned to solitary confinement during this same period.
On March 2, 2021, Killin began taking amitriptyline, a tricyclic antidepressant that Dr. Beachkofsky prescribed. Killin had never taken amitriptyline before, which carries a “black box warning” from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regarding its use in adolescents and young adults under 24 years of age because it can increase the risk of suicidal ideation and behaviors. Killin took the drug nightly for 10 days before he hung himself in his cell in solitary.
According to the complaint, Geo Group and Warden Martinez assigned Killin to solitary confinement by request in December of 2020 with no reason or justification other than it was Killin’s preference to be in solitary. This is not standard practice in a prison and violative of the prison standards, attorneys say. Killin’s history of psychiatric medication management while in prison was disregarded and his recent termination of psychiatric medication by Dr. Garza was never reviewed, approved, flagged, or questioned during Killin’s transition to solitary confinement.
The lawsuit alleges that Killin was put in solitary confinement with no special monitoring, psychotherapy, suicide preventive measures, or restrictions on what items he could and could not have in his cell.
Solitary confinement alone is a high-risk factor for suicide besides an inmate’s other conditions. Studies have shown that suicide is a leading cause of mortality in prisoners, accounting for roughly 30% of all prison deaths. Roughly 90% of prison suicides result from hanging or self-strangulation. In the U.S., prisoners have 33-fold higher odds of dying by hanging than do suicide decedents in the general population.
Attorneys' say suicide studies dating back to the 1960s were known to the prison officials and medical staff but were deliberately ignored.
About Attorney Stephanie B. Sherman
Stephanie Sherman is an award-winning trial lawyer and shareholder at Baum Hedlund. She is admitted in both Texas and California. With her unique background in both psychology and law, Stephanie Sherman is well-known throughout her home state of Texas and across the country for understanding the complexities of trauma and being a champion for the nation’s most vulnerable. Her ceaseless advocacy in high-stakes personal injury and wrongful death litigation has resulted in verdicts and settlements worth hundreds of millions.
About Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman
Baum Hedlund is recognized as a preeminent plaintiff firm that handles high-stakes litigation against entities that have caused serious harm. The firm is one of the nation’s top plaintiffs’ civil trial law firms based in Los Angeles. Baum Hedlund has won some of the largest personal injury and wrongful death verdicts and settlements in recent history. Law360 has recognized Baum Hedlund on more than one occasion and honored them in 2021 with California Powerhouse and in 2020 with Product Liability Practice Group of the Year. ALM and The National Law Journal have twice awarded them with Elite Trial Lawyers Trial Team of the Year and inducted them into the Verdicts Hall of Fame. In total, the firm has won more than $4 billion in verdicts and settlements across a broad range of practice areas.