A pod at the Somerset County Jail in Madison is shown in 2019. Morning Sentinel file

The mother of a Somerset County Jail inmate who died by suicide in the Madison jail two years ago has filed a federal lawsuit against the county, sheriff and jail officials.

The lawsuit alleges that officials failed to provide adequate mental and physical health care to inmate Virgil White, of Athens, who was suffering from mental illness.

Virgil White

The civil suit, filed on Friday, May 24, in U.S. District Court by attorney Stephen Smith, claims officials breached their duties by failing to regularly observe and protect 33-year-old White and supervise his activities, despite knowing his need for medical care.

“The defendants committed reckless and conscious disregard for the Decedent’s well-being while he was in their custody and care, leading to his death,” the 10-page lawsuit states.

Smith represents Paula White, the mother of Virgil White, as she is the personal representative of his estate. She is seeking compensatory and punitive damages in amounts to be shown at trial, reasonable attorney’s fees, costs and disbursements, pre- and post-judgment interest and additional relief the court deems just and proper.

Besides Somerset County, those named in the lawsuit are Sheriff Dale Lancaster; Michael Pike, assistant jail administrator; Joshua Bowden, jail supervisor; and Samuel Urszinyi, an employee and corrections officer in the jail. They are being sued in their individual and official capacities.


Lancaster said he could not comment on the case because it involves an active lawsuit and because the county is represented by attorney Peter Marchesi.

“I can say that my clients, the sheriff, the jail administrator and the county itself plan to vigorously defend the allegations against them in this case,” Marchesi, of the Waterville law firm Wheeler & Arey, said Thursday. “Beyond that, I am unable to comment at this time.”

A court clerk said that the summonses were issued Friday. The defendants have to be served by Smith’s office and then they will have an opportunity to file an answer to the complaint.

White was a 2007 graduate of Madison Area Memorial High School who served a mission as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, according to his obituary.

In May 2022, the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office posted a statement on its Facebook page saying it was seeking the public’s help in finding White. Officials said at the time that White was facing charges of aggravated domestic violence assault, aggravated criminal mischief, violating conditions of release and obstructing the report of a crime. White was required to wear an ankle bracelet for prior offenses but had removed it, prompting the request for help finding him. He was ultimately found by authorities.

Around Oct. 3, 2022, White was transferred to the jail and was being held on bail for criminal charges in Franklin County Unified Criminal Court, according to the court documents. By Oct. 25, a mental health re-assessment form noted he was psychiatrically unstable and it was recommended he be admitted to a psychiatric hospital. Around Nov. 3, he was admitted to the Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta. He was discharged from the hospital on Nov. 23  and taken back to the Somerset jail.


The suit says White died at the jail on Dec. 5, 2022, from hanging and asphyxiation.

Jail officials knew he was suffering serious symptoms from mental illness and he exhibited many red flags in the weeks and months leading up to the time of his death, according to the suit. Officials knew or should have known he was a suicide risk, the lawsuit says.

The suit claims that “upon information and belief, corrections staff are required to observe detainees every 15 minutes and memorialize what they observe in a jail log,” but a jail officer did not check on White for more than an hour during a time period that was crucial to his health and well-being.”

The jail officials named in the suit failed to adequately train corrections staff on how to safeguard inmates with mental health conditions and displayed deliberate and depraved indifference to the safety of detainees in their custody, the suit claims.

The failure by defendants was “negligent, knowing, intentional, willful, wanton, reckless and deliberately indifferent,” according to the suit, which also claims one official was well known to many jail employees as one who displayed “indifference and disrespect toward the inmate population” and “referred to the population placed in his custody as ‘slugs’ or worse.”

“Defendants were so indifferent to the needs of detainees that they tolerated and encouraged a culture of dehumanization and mistreatment of detainees, directly supporting and cultivating a malicious disregard to the constitutional needs of individuals under their custody and care,” the lawsuit states. “Decedent’s suffering and death were a proximate cause of Defendants’ wanton disregard for his (White’s) constitutional rights.”

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