A civil rights lawsuit accuses Nye County officials of failing to prevent the suicide of a jail inmate who hanged himself in January after his arrest on a domestic violence charge.
The family of Vincent Zucchero, who was found dead in his cell at the Nye County jail in Tonopah, filed the complaint Monday in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas.
“During his detention, it was evident to defendants that Mr. Zucchero was a substantial suicide risk,” the lawsuit alleges. “Defendants, however, failed to take appropriate action in response to this risk, and it was foreseeable that the failure to take appropriate action would result in death or serious bodily injury to Mr. Zucchero.”
The family, represented by Seattle-based attorneys Ed Budge and Erik Heipt, filed the lawsuit against Nye County and its sheriff, Anthony DeMeo.
DeMeo declined to comment on the complaint. In a voice-mail message he said, “I haven’t seen the lawsuit, and as I’ve said in the past is that we had requested a Department of Justice investigation, and we have turned over requested information to Department of Justice.”
Zucchero, 44, and his wife were arrested in November in Pahrump on a domestic violence charge. Zucchero was transferred to Tonopah, according to the lawsuit, and his wife was transferred to a California jail.
In January, DeMeo said Nye County prosecutors had not decided what charges to pursue against Zucchero. In addition to the domestic violence charge, the sheriff said, authorities were investigating charges of possession of a weapon by a convicted felon, burglary and petty larceny.
Zucchero also was being held on an outstanding financial crimes warrant from California, where he had at least two prior felony convictions. The inmate, who was fighting extradition, faced the potential of spending the rest of his life in prison under California’s three strikes law.
“In the days before his suicide, Mr. Zucchero was observed making plans to hang himself,” the lawsuit alleges. “These plans were witnessed by co-inmates who were present in the same section of the jail and who promptly reported their observations and concerns to jail staff.”
The document also accuses the defendants of failing to take appropriate action in response to Zucchero’s “serious medical needs” and of trying to cover up their potential liability in his suicide by conspiring to withhold some of his personal items, including his last will and testament. Zucchero hanged himself with a bedsheet on Jan. 24.
Plaintiffs in the civil case are Zucchero’s wife, Tracy; his parents, Thomas and Catherine; and his daughter, Jennifer. They are seeking unspecified damages.