Politics

Prosecutors Defend Decision to Place R. Kelly on Suicide Watch

Federal prosecutors on Saturday defended the decision to place the R&B artist R. Kelly on suicide watch at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, where he has remained since being sentenced to 30 years in federal prison for sex trafficking and racketeering.

Mr. Kelly, 55, had sued the jail on Friday, saying that he did not actually need to be under suicide watch and that the jail staff was using the tool punitively against high-profile defendants.

A staff psychologist at the jail first placed Mr. Kelly on suicide watch after his sentencing last Wednesday, when a psychiatric review determined that Mr. Kelly was clinically at risk of harming himself. According to court documents, psychologists consider defendants’ state of mind, degree of hopelessness and the length of their sentence in making that appraisal.

But in his lawsuit, Mr. Kelly, who has been held at the jail for more than a year, claimed he explicitly told psychologists that he was not suicidal and was placed in the program anyway. Inmates on suicide watch are often required to wear paper smocks rather than regular jumpsuits. In some cases, they are not provided with utensils and are forced to eat with their hands, the filing said.

The “harsh” conditions of suicide watch have done irreparable harm to Mr. Kelly, his lawyers said.

Jail policy included in a court filing said that while under suicide watch, inmates can be restrained and are under constant supervision from jail officials.

The detention center staff members knew that Mr. Kelly “was not a suicide risk when they placed him under suicide watch subjecting him to cruel confinement,” the lawsuit said.

But government lawyers said it would be “unprecedented” for the jail to take Mr. Kelly off suicide watch based on his own self-analysis. He remained on watch as of Saturday, they said, for his own safety.

Mr. Kelly’s lawyers argued last week that being unnecessarily placed on suicide watch was a violation of Mr. Kelly’s Eighth Amendment rights against cruel and unusual punishment. They said Mr. Kelly had been mentally prepared for his sentencing and did not show any signs of distress.

“Nothing occurred during the sentencing that came as a surprise for Mr. Kelly,” his lawyers wrote.

The jail, in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn, has also housed Ghislaine Maxwell, the convicted sex trafficker and former partner of the disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein. Ms. Maxwell, who was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison last week, was also recently placed on suicide watch at the detention facility, which has long been the subject of accusations of poor housing conditions and mismanagement.

It is unclear how much longer Mr. Kelly will remain in custody in New York, where he was convicted last year on the trafficking and racketeering charges. He will soon face a federal trial in Chicago on charges that he produced child pornography and lured minors into sex acts. That trial is set for Aug. 22.

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