Written by: Donald Cyphers
Billings, Montana June 13, 2015--//mna press//--The City of Billings, Yellowstone County, Brian Degele, and Sandra Leonard are being sued for the wrongful death of Steven Tyler Russo by his personal representative Patricia L. Russo-Wood.
Steven Tyler Russo died on June 6, 2013 while the young man was incarcerated in the Yellowstone County Detention Facility that is operated by the County of Yellowstone.
Defendant Brian Degele, is a Classification Officer for the Yellowstone County Detention Facility and had directed interaction with the now deceased Steven Tyler Russo.
Defendant City of Billings has contracts with the County jail for incarceration of arrestees and detainees regarding criminal charges.
Defendant Sandra Leonard is a Billings Police Detective and was directly involved with the now deceased Steven Tyler Russo.
(5) Other employees of the County Detention center are also names as for now as John and Jane Does as further additional claims will be brought against them as legal discovery permits.
Background facts of the case, show that on April 25, 2013 Russo was arrested by the Billings Police Department and jailed at the Yellowstone County Detention Facility. He was wanted on bench warrants for not showing for his prior court dates when he was arrested on March 2011. However the court did release him on his own recognizance.
Even after a family member, Steven’s mother Patricia Russo showed concern as to why her son was being released on his own recognizance from the jail since her son did not show up for prior Court dates. Patricia Russo spoke directly to City Of Billings City Attorney Stacey Tenney about her concern and directly warned him about her son.
Yet a few days later Russo was tazed then arrested by the Billings Police after a high speed chase and ordered to appear for a drug court date set on May 22, 2013 Steven Russo was once again released on his own recognizance and told to appear at his new court date. The Billings Police were in direct knowledge that Steven Russo stated, “I’ll see you on the other side.” The City of Billings police officers had direct knowledge that the comment was a suicide comment of some sort. But they ignored that comment.
On June 5, 2013 in the early morning, Detention Officers were having problems in dealing with Steven Russo as he was very emotional yelling the words “Tell my family how much I love them and good-bye for me.” Detention Officers yelled back at him to “Shut up.”
Steven was yelling this from his holding cell. So the Detention Officers moved Russo to a classified cell and was checked every 15 minutes in that unit and were told by Commanding staff to “keep an eye on him.”
Brian Degele acting as a Classification Officer interviewed Steven Russo using a point threat system. Degele gave Steven Tyler Russo 13 points and sent him to a Maximum security wing in the jail.
Brian Degele did not follow Detention County policy when he did send Steven Russo to the Maximum security wing. This was against the assessment and jail policy. Degele knowing that there were major concerns with Steven Russo mental status at the time, finally placed Steven Russo in the medium security wing instead even thought the 13 point classification that he just given Steven Russo remained the same and did not change during the entire time Russo was in the custody of the Yellowstone County.
Finally at about 9:42 in the evening a Billings Detective came into the jail to interview Steven Russo. Detective Sandy Leonard spent at least an hour with Russo according to the Jail logs. During the interview, Detective Sandy Leonard refused to allow Steven Russo to either call his mother or his attorney. This was a violation of Steven Russo’s civil rights.
Instead, Billings Detective made a phone call to Steven’s mother Patricia Russo-wood and spent 34 minutes talking on the phone to her, not once letting Steven talk to neither his mother nor an attorney.
Billings Detective Sandy Leonard instead made the excuse that Steven Tyler Russo had been using Meth for seven days straight and has had no sleep.
It was on June 6, 2013 that Corrections Officer Dunker and Classification Officer Brian Degele moved Russo to the Medium Security wing of the jail.
At about 9:30 a.m. Patricia Russo finally received a phone call from her son Steven. Later that same day, Steven’s jailed door open up. He was being housed in Cell #42. Detention Officer Shirly stated during the inquest hearing that he could not keep track of 44 people all at one time, or all the time. Yet Detention Officer according to Jail logs and the progress sheet had direct knowledge that Steven Russo was an inmate that was classified by Brian Degele as “Bears Watching.”
It was Detention Officer Shirly that let Steven Russo go into the shower room by himself, unsupervised, in the lower shower tier. Russo wanted to take a shower and he was allowed unsupervised even though Steven Russo had a 13 point classification and had a Progress Sheet entry of “Bears Watching.”
20 minutes later Detention Officer Shirly goes into the shower area and finds Steven Russo hanging in the shower. One minute later, a call for medical help occurred.
Later that evening, Patricia Russo-Woods called the Yellowstone County Detention Facility and was told that her son did not make his appearance in court and refused to give Patricia Russo-Woods any explanation as to why.
One day later Patricia Russo-Woods called the Jail once again and was told that her son Steven Russo did not make it to his arraignment and that no bond had been set. Never once did the jail tell Patricia Russo-Woods that her son was hospitalized due to the fact that he had hung himself. In fact the jail staff deliberately omitted this information when they interacted by phone with Patricia Russo-Woods, the mother of Steven Tyler Russo.
The jail staff did not even tell his mother that her boy was DEAD!! They deliberately omitted that information.
Later on the evening of June 7, 2013 Patricia Woods received a call from a friend of Steven Russo, this man expressed his condolences for her son’s death. He knew of the death because it was announced in the media.
Immediately, Steven’s mother called the jail several times and was just placed on hold for almost 30 minutes, then when someone answer all they would do is to take her phone number name and address. Then simply hung up.
On June 7 2013 at 9:30 p.m. Coroner Fehr called Patricia Russo-Woods and told her that Steven had actually died on Thursday June 6, 2013 and that the cause was from hanging himself. It was the jail staff that told the coroner that Steven Russo had no family so that was why he did not call anyone.
Yet the jail staff had talked many times to Patricia Russo-Woods, Billings Detective Sandra Leonard, Spoke for 30 minutes to Patricia Russo-Woods and it is documented by Detention jail staff that Steven Tyler Woods made the comment to them in jail “Tell my family how much I love them and good-bye for me.” Don’t forget that several Detention officers yelled at him to “shut up.”
Now the Billings Police Department tries to cover their ass from being sued. Patricia Russo-Woods received a call from Billings Detective Sandra Leonard. Detective Sandra Leonard told Patricia Russo-Woods, “ In no way is her department responsible for any wrong doing that may have led to his suicide.”
Billings Detective Sandra Leonard was trying to cover her ass from being sued as she did have a role in this whole messed up detention of Steven Russo and had direct contact with the jail staff.
The defendants in this case are being sued for Negligence, Civil Rights Violations by Billings Detective Sandra Leonard, and Civil rights violation by Classification Officer Brain Degele of the Yellowstone County Jail.
This law suit was actually filed on May 31, 2016
Billings Police and Yellowstone County are being sued AGAIN !!!