- Associated Press - Sunday, February 19, 2017

PHOENIX (AP) - The suicide of an Arizona state prison inmate that led to the mass firing of Arizona corrections officers last year is now the subject of a lawsuit.

The parents and three sons of inmate Scott Saba filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the state and several former officers on Feb. 14.

The lawsuit filed on behalf of Marion and Richard Saba and Scott Saba’s children says the state’s neglect of his mental health and the officers’ actions directly led to his death.

Last year’s death of Saba and another inmate suicide in 2015 led the Department of Corrections to fire 13 guards and discipline for six others.

Saba, 45, who had drug abuse and mental health issues, died on Feb. 15, 2016. Guards at the state prison in Florence couldn’t enter his cell or immediately call for help when he was spotted hanging from an electrical cord because they had turned in their keys and radios well before their shift ended.

The wrongful death and civil rights lawsuit filed in Maricopa County Superior Court seeks unspecified damages.

Department of Corrections spokesman Andrew Wilder declined to comment on the lawsuit, but he pointed to a statement from Director Charles Ryan after the firings. “Our investigations uncovered troubling instances of neglect of duty and other serious misconduct by some employees which, as a public safety agency, we cannot and will not tolerate,” Ryan said.

Ryan added that the vast majority of the agency’s 9,100 employees “provide professional and high-quality public service each and every day.”

The other suicide happened at the Perryville women’s prison in Goodyear on Aug. 25, 2015. Guards hadn’t checked on inmate Cynthia Apkaw for nearly three hours because they were lounging in an air-conditioned control room. The 25-year-old was serving a 10-year sentence for aggravated assault and weapons violations.

An investigation showed guards in the maximum security unit housing many inmates with mental health issues had falsified logs showing they made required checks every 30 minutes.

Saba’s case led to the firings of three corrections officers named in the lawsuit and a sergeant, and a second sergeant also was dismissed. The lawsuit said the prison warden had known for months that guards were turning in their equipment well before their shifts ended, but the practice continued.

An investigation found that more than two hours before he was found hanging, Saba asked a guard for a health referral, and letters found in his cell after his death showed he was under mental duress.

Saba began serving time for organized retail theft, drug violations and other crimes in 2014. He had an expected release date in 2020. He had worked on a prison wildland firefighting crew and had only one minor infraction in prison.

Just two days before his death, he tried to make 56 calls to his family. Inmates said Saba appeared to be acting paranoid.

Saba’s mother, Marion Saba of Scottsdale, said in a brief interview after the firings were announced last April that her son was struggling in prison and she wants to see changes in how the prison system takes care of people with mental health issues.

“We just don’t want this to happen to any other family,” Saba said. “That’s our main goal.”

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