Charles Freitag Sr. had tried to kill himself twice before he was locked in a cell in the Bucks County Correctional Facility in the summer of 2018. The second attempt, in which he drove his truck headlong into his ex-wife’s house, had landed him behind bars.
Prison officials knew this, a federal lawsuit filed Friday contends. And they knew Freitag’s upcoming sentencing in the case was weighing heavily on him. But his family says those officials failed to properly monitor the former U.S. Postal Service worker, who died by suicide in his county jail cell.
“It was blatantly obvious to everyone involved with Mr. Freitag’s incarceration that he was a serious risk to harming himself after his sentencing,” Jonathan Feinberg, the attorney for Freitag’s family, said Monday. “He expressed anxiety and concern in the months leading up to that sentencing, and there should’ve been alarm bells and red flags for everyone involved.”
In the civil complaint, Feinberg notes that county prison officials did not place Freitag on suicide watch despite his history of mental illness.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Philadelphia, names the county as well as PrimeCare Medical Inc., the Harrisburg-based company with which the county contracts to provide health care to prisoners.
Larry King, a county spokesperson, declined to comment on the pending litigation. Representatives from PrimeCare Medical did not return a request for comment Monday.
Freitag, 57, was convicted of aggravated assault, reckless endangerment, and criminal mischief after a jury trial in June 2018, court records show. It was the Bensalem resident’s first criminal offense, and it came at a difficult time in his life, according to the civil suit.
Freitag was diagnosed with depression in 2017 and stopped taking his medication not long after. A month after his diagnosis, Freitag sliced his arms with a box cutter and drove his truck through the wall of his ex-wife’s home, according to the lawsuit.
Prosecutors offered Freitag a deal: If he pleaded guilty to a felony, he would avoid jail and be given probation. He refused, concerned that he would lose his job with the Postal Service if convicted of a felony.
After the trial, Freitag’s suicidal feelings and mental health issues were recorded by PrimeCare workers during his intake at the jail, according to the lawsuit. He made statements in prison about being an “emotional wreck” and having negative feelings that worsened as his sentencing hearing neared.
In July 2018, prison officials mandated that guards keep a watch on Freitag’s cell, checking in on him every 30 minutes, according to the lawsuit. His family contends that wasn’t enough.
“Based on this background, defendants ... were aware that Mr. Freitag was particularly vulnerable to suicide, and that the result of his sentencing proceeding was a stressor likely to cause him to act on his vulnerability,” Feinberg wrote in the lawsuit.
At a hearing in August, Freitag was sentenced to six to 12 years in prison. The news “shocked and stunned” Freitag, who had assumed he would be released from jail.
The next day, guards at the jail failed to check in on Freitag every 30 minutes, the lawsuit says. During one of those gaps, Freitag slit his wrists using a shard broken from a plastic cup. He was pronounced dead at the jail.