Madison, Wisconsin – The state agreed this past Tuesday to pay $18.9 million to a former teen who was severely brain damaged after a failed suicide attempt at the state’s Copper Lake juvenile prison.

Sydni Briggs of Janesville Wisconsin was just sixteen when she was held at  Copper Lake for breaking into a liquor store and stealing several bottles of liquor. Sydni turned on a call light that staff members were supposed to respond to immediately on November 9th, 2015. Guards could see into Brigg’s room from a video camera, but no one responded to the “call light” for nearly 24 minutes. In that 24 minutes, Briggs had hanged herself with a torn T-shirt, had no pulse and was not breathing. Staff members did revive her via CPR and a heart defibrillator.

According to an expert witness, Briggs was hanging for 2 to 5 minutes, which suggests staff could have stopped the event if they had responded to the “call light” promptly, said Briggs attorney Eric Haag.

“The tragedy is that this was preventable and it didn’t require heroics or anything extraordinary to prevent it from occurring,” he said in a statement. “If people had competently done their jobs and fulfilled basic responsibilities this would not have happened.”

Briggs spent the next couple of months in a coma and was later moved to a rehabilitation center. Now 19, Briggs uses a wheelchair, has the cognition equivalent to that of a young child and is expected to require full around-the-clock care for the remainder of her life that could cost $200,000 a year.

Haag continued to say that he had met with Briggs a total of ten times over the past 2 years and he had to reintroduce himself every time due to her diminished memory and cognitive abilities.

In a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel interview at her rehab center last year, Briggs said she could not remember details about her time at Copper Lake but was not happy there.

“Nothing good,” she said of what she recalled of Copper Lake. “It was all bad.”

Four months prior to her attempted suicide, an audit of operations at the prison found that staff was not routinely responding to the “call lights” when the inmates turned them on.

Three weeks prior to the suicide attempt, she told a prison psychiatrist that she had suicidal thoughts and sometimes viewed life as not being worth living. Briggs made those comments just months after she had begun discussing the first time sexual abuse that she endured at the age of 13. On the morning of her suicide attempt, Briggs was not on a special monitoring schedule used by the prison to prevent suicidal inmates from hurting themselves.

Although guards say that they were checking on her every 15 minutes at the time of Briggs’ attempted suicide, an internal investigation has shown that the guard had not checked on her for 42 minutes. Haag called the investigation a “cover-up” as that investigation gave no indication of the full extent of the problems leading up to Briggs’ suicide attempt, including the fact that guards had falsified records claiming that they had routinely checked in on Briggs.

More than $11 million will go to trust funds set up for Briggs. About $7.5 million will go toward attorney fees and litigation costs. The state is paying about $4 million of the cost, with the remainder being paid by its insurers.

Haag said he was glad to see Walker and lawmakers planned to close Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake but said changes need to go further to put new officials in charge of juvenile corrections.

“The outcome isn’t going to change dramatically by a change in geography alone,” he said in his statement.

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Law enforcement and prison guards have certain legal obligations to the inmates that they detain. When a citizen is taken into custody, the police department and the jail assume responsibility for the safety and well-being of that person. If they fail to protect the inmates, then the city, county, or state can be held liable for their actions or inactions.

Abuse is often thought of as being an active action (assault or cruel punishments), as opposed to a passive one (medical neglect or failure to properly monitor the mentally ill), but abuse to an inmate can take many forms. Listed below are some of the common types of abuse towards inmates:


  • Beatings by jail personnel
  • Use of excessive force
  • Failing to segregate violent inmates
  • Use of cruel and unusual punishments


  • Ignoring the needs of the mentally ill inmates
  • Withholding medications from the inmates
  • Failing to provide medical attention
  • Failing to properly monitor inmates on suicide watch

The above list is not exhaustive, but it comprises some of the more common inmate complaints.

It’s important to remember that although these individuals have been convicted of a crime, the criminal system still has legal and moral obligations to execute their daily duties in a humane manner.

When you need legal help, finding the answers you need can be overwhelming. No fear, you can contact us! We’re here to take the guesswork and searching out of the equation. Contact us: call, text, or fill out the form below, and we will contact you within 24 business hours.

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