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Somerset County jail facing two wrongful death lawsuits

The Somerset County Jail in Madison is seen in this July 29, 2008, file photo.
John Clarke Russ
The Somerset County Jail in Madison is seen in this July 29, 2008, file photo.

The Somerset County jail is facing two wrongful death lawsuits following two inmate deaths in recent years.

Virgil White died by suicide in December of 2022, and Mitchell Watson died February of last year, of a suspected drug exposure. Both lawsuits charge the jail and staff with deliberate indifference to medical needs and failure to train and supervise personnel.

White was being held on bail on charges in Franklin County. His mental health issues had been reported to jail staff, and he had just returned from Riverview Psychiatric Center.

Stephen Smith, the attorney for both cases, said the families of the men believe that the jail staff should have acted sooner to protect them.

"The ability of the jail to perform adequate safety checks and provide adequate treatment to Mr. White was grossly inadequate," Smith said.

In Watson's case, the lawsuit alleges that jail staff were aware of an influx of drugs into the jail, and failed to use whole-body scans to screen for contraband. The family also claims that the jail staff failed to act after Watson's roommate reported his strange behavior and symptoms.

Smith said these are examples of issues that occur in jails across the state.

"Again, I just think we're seeing a trend really everywhere," Smith said. "And I think the fundamental problem is a lack of training and a lack of staffing."

Somerset County Sheriff Dale Lancaster said in an email that he is unable to comment on the lawsuits.

Kaitlyn Budion is Maine Public’s Bangor correspondent, joining the reporting team after several years working in print journalism.