Michayla Brilz, 27, hanged herself with a telephone cord while incarcerated at the Missoula County Detention Center last year. On May 9, attorneys representing her family asked a judge to compel the county to release information to help them determine if jailers were negligent in her death.
"We have collected information over the last six months or so that leads us to believe that there may be a strong basis for a lawsuit," says the family's attorney, Milt Datsopoulos.
Prior to Brilz's April 26, 2011 death, she was treated for bipolar disorder, court documents say. She also had a criminal history. In 2010, Brilz pleaded guilty of obstructing a police officer and resisting arrest. She was on misdemeanor probation for driving under the influence when, in the spring of 2011, prosecutors charged her with criminal distribution of dangerous drugs for allegedly paying a babysitter with prescription medication.
Brilz was taken into custody at the end of April 2011 for violating the terms of her release. According to a coroner's inquest conducted after Brilz's death, she was intoxicated that night; her blood alcohol level was 0.20, two-and-a-half times the legal driving limit. A detention center staffer testified that Brilz seemed relaxed before she was placed in Holding Cell C. She talked about her two young children. She said nothing of suicide.
Roughly 40 minutes after Brilz was placed in the holding cell, a detention center staffer found her unresponsive and with a phone cord wrapped around her neck.
Last July, the six-member jury that convened for the coroner's inquest unanimously found the county innocent of criminal negligence. Datsopoulos, however, points out that there's a significantly lower threshold of proof required to show civil negligence. He wonders, in light of Brilz's history of mental illness, why guards didn't keep a closer eye on her. "It's not clear why somebody wasn't watching her," he says.
Missoula County Sheriff Carl Ibsen oversees the detention facility. He wouldn't comment on the specifics of the Brilz case, but he says the detention facility has taken steady strides to protect safety since he took over as sherif in 2010. "We constantly have been and continue to look for modifications, improvements, to all aspects to the detention facility, safety-wise."