WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — The mother of a man who died by suicide in the Sedgwick County Jail in May 2019 is suing the county.

Austin Stewart (Courtesy Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office)

Austin Stewart, 37, was being held on charges of first-degree murder, aggravated robbery and theft. Investigators said Stewart and Landon Onek killed 88-year-old veteran Floyd Gilbert at Gilbert’s home in the 2200 block of West MacArthur in November 2018.

Salena Brooks, Stewart’s mother, is suing Sedgwick County Commissioners, Sheriff Jeff Easter, and some jail employees.

Brooks is being represented by the Law Office of David L. Miller. In the lawsuit, Miller said that Stewart first tried to take his life in January of 2019 and was on suicide watch and should have been observed every 15 minutes.

“There are various policies and procedures that have to be put in place for an inmate who’s on suicide watch,” Miller said.

He claims that when Stewart died, it was “only a very short distance from where deputies were stationed,” but deputies did not discover the death for about an hour and a half.

“We believe that the failures of the deputies that were at the jail on that evening—their failure to follow those procedures—the result of that was Mr. Stewart’s death,” Miller said.

The lawsuit is seeking more than $1 million for Brooks.

Miller says he hopes the case sheds light on what he calls a growing issue for the facility.

“We’re bringing awareness, you know, that this certainly has been a problem at the Sedgwick County Jail,” Miller said, “The family has lost a family member—I believe they should be compensated for that.”

Sedgwick County Commissioner Jim Howell says while it’s not unusual for a lawsuit to stem from a death in the jail, the allegations are ringing alarm bells.

“Some of the details there, if those are accurate, it does raise some questions, so I understand why they would go after the county if those things are factual,” Howell said.

But Howell says with so many unknowns, he’s awaiting the response of the Sedgwick County District Attorney and the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office before commenting on the specifics of the case.

“I think we can find ways to improve almost anything, but does that mean that we’re negligent, or that we should pay a settlement—I think that’s a long ways off for someone to make that judgment,” Howell said.

Howell says the lawsuit could last between 4-5 years before the issue is resolved.

KSN has reached out to all five county commissioners, the county’s spokesperson, the sheriff, and the sheriff’s office spokesperson to respond to the lawsuit.

So far, we have heard back from County Commissioner Pete Meitzner, who said he does not talk about pending legal matters. Commissioner David Dennis said he is unavailable Monday but may be able to comment Tuesday. Commissioner Sarah Lopez is waiting to see the full lawsuit paperwork before responding.

If you need help with mental health:

Several hotlines and even local virtual support groups are available if you or someone you know needs help.

  • COMCARE Hotline – 316-660-7500
  • National Suicide Prevention Hotline – 800-273-8255
  • Both hotlines are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
  • Find more local resources or support groups here.