The Florida Justice Institute (FJI) has filed a lawsuit against the Florida Department of Corrections (FDC) for the family of a man with schizophrenia who committed suicide with a chainsaw while incarcerated at South Florida Reception Center, an FDC prison in Doral. Tristin Murphy had an initial evaluation during which he was actively psychotic and experiencing delusions. He had an extensive psychiatric history, had spent time in a state mental hospital after being found incompetent to proceed in his criminal case, had been previously committed pursuant to Florida’s Baker Act, and had previously attempted suicide while incarcerated. But rather than being placed in a higher level of inpatient care, he was released to the general population. There, he did not receive a follow-up mental health appointment and did not receive his medications for several days. He was later assigned to a work squad where he had access to dangerous tools, including a chainsaw. Tragically, on the first day of the work detail, he cut his neck with a chainsaw in view of dozens of other incarcerated people and staff, and died.
“This case shows the tragic consequences of not adequately responding to someone in psychiatric crisis,” said Dante P. Trevisani, Executive Director of the Florida Justice Institute. “We hope this case will cause the FDC to closely examine the mental health care being provided at South Florida Reception Center and elsewhere, so that something like this doesn’t happen again.”
The Complaint notes that Tristin was only 37 years old, with only a year and half left on his sentence. He was serving a three-year sentence for littering or dumping over 500 pounds for driving his truck into a lake outside the Charlotte County Jail, and a Violation of Probation. He is survived by his wife, two school-age children, and his parents.
The plaintiff in the case is Cynthia Murphy, Tristin’s mother. “Nothing can bring Tristin back,” said Ms. Murphy. “But we hope that changes can be made in the prison system to make sure that no family ever has to go through this.”
The Complaint also points out that South Florida Reception Center—the prison at which Tristin was housed—has been subjected to a series of audits by the Correctional Medical Authority, the agency that evaluates the medical and mental health care being provided at Florida prisons. The audits noted that SFRC was not in compliance in several areas, including not seeking mental health records from community providers, not providing follow-up mental health appointments in a timely manner, not providing ordered psychotropic medications. Some of the findings remain open today.
Tristin’s life and death was profiled by local journalist Jim Defede, which can be found here: WAREHOUSED: The Life and Death of Tristin Murphy – CBS Miami (cbsnews.com)
A follow-up piece with reactions can be found here: Facing South Florida: Warehoused: The Life and Death of Tristin Murphy. – YouTube