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Jail commons pod

Yellowstone County spent more than $2 million last year on health care for inmates in the jail, which has an average daily population near 500.

The family of a man who died by suicide inside the Yellowstone County jail in 2013 has agreed to settle with the county for $35,000.

The county admits no wrongdoing as part of the settlement, according to Kevin Gillen, of the Yellowstone County Attorney's Office.

The family of Steven Tyler Russo filed suit three years after Russo’s death on June 6, 2013. Russo was found in the shower still alive after his suicide attempt by hanging, but died later at Billings Clinic.

Russo’s mother, Patricia Russo-Wood, claimed in the suit that jail crowding had led detention officers to be negligent in their duty to her son.

He was designated a maximum security prisoner but placed in minimum security due to lack of space, according to the lawsuit.

The county responded that the detention staff did not and should not have known that Russo was suicidal.

Inmates are not supervised during showers in either minimum or maximum security, so Russo’s placement in the wrong unit provided no additional suicide opportunity, the county asserted.

Asked if the settlement, which has yet to be finalized, brought closure, Russo-Wood said it did not. 

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"There’s no such thing in the death of a child," she said. "Or the death of any loved one, for that (matter). It’s a healing journey you will take every day for the rest of your life."

Russo-Wood said jails are difficult environments and that she didn't expect her son to enjoy creature comforts inside, but that she did have a minimum expectation of safety. 

"We’re basically saying, 'They’re in your care, they’re in your custody, can you keep them from harming themselves?'" she said. 

The county is still defending itself in another jail suicide lawsuit. The family of Michael Ostby, who died July 1, 2015, is awaiting a ruling on the case in U.S. District Court.  

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Justice Reporter

Justice reporter for the Billings Gazette.