Mother files suit after her teen daughter commits suicide while in custody

Madison Johnson had what was described as a personality that would light up a room, but below the surface laid emotional struggles.
Published: Nov. 20, 2023 at 12:22 PM CST
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DOTHAN, Ala. (WTVY) - A woman claiming negligence contributed to her daughter’s death filed suit against a juvenile lockup on Monday.

Vanessa Johnson claims Southeast Alabama Youth Services knew her 15-year-old had mental issues and, not long before her lockup, she attempted to take her life. Yet, Johnson argues, SAYS failed in its promise to put her daughter on suicide watch.

The suit, filed by Dothan attorney Cal Whaley, claims SAYS breached its duty to protect Madison Johnson and failed to train its staff correctly in such matters. The suit seeks unspecified damages.

“Madison had a personality that would light up a room,” Vanessa Johnson said of her daughter, but admitting her sometimes defiant teen struggled emotionally and suffered behavioral issues.

Vanessa Johnson told News4 that she and a judge agreed for Madison to go to the Diversion Center that SAYS operates.

The teen hanged herself on September 30.

“If (they) had been coming to check on her every 10 minutes, we could have gotten her back; every 20 minutes, we could have gotten her back; hours later, that was no signs of life,” she said during a November 10 press conference with Whaley.

SAYS did not respond to an earlier email, and the lawsuit did not immediately list an attorney for the agency.

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