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Oregon to pay $2.5M settlement following adjudicated teenager’s death by suicide

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Looking Glass

The family of a teenager who died by suicide while in an Oregon agency’s custody has reached a $2.5 million settlement agreement, exactly three years after his death.

While judicially committed to the care of the Oregon Youth Authority, Brett Bruns, 19, lived at Looking Glass Community Services, a 24-hour supervised group facility in Eugene. The legal complaint says a supervisor, Nicholas Brown, placed Bruns on suicide watch after seeing him tie his shoelaces into a noose.

The legal complaint says Brown moved Bruns to a locked and secure area, but he didn’t confiscate the shoelaces. The next day, Brown allowed Bruns to leave the facility, even though Bruns was still on suicide watch. Two days later, Bruns’ body was found in a public park, apparently having used his shoelaces to die by suicide.

“This was a completely avoidable tragedy,” Dave Park, an attorney representing Bruns’ family, said in a statement. “We learned through this case that the state does not do nearly enough to ensure youth are safe within the facilities the state contracts with for rehabilitation services.”

The Oregon Youth Authority is a state agency that manages correction facilities for youth offenders. It contracts with Looking Glass Community Services, a nonprofit child care agency, to provide highly supervised and secure residential treatment programs for juvenile offenders.

Bruns was committed to the authority’s care in 2015. He moved through several different facilities over the following years, including the Looking Glass Facility. Bruns was enrolled in Looking Glass’s Pathways Boys Program, a behavior rehabilitation services program for boys between 12 and 25 years old who experience severe emotional and behavioral problems.

“Most troubling to his parents, was the lack of communication about their son’s condition or care,” the attorney’s statement reads. “They were left in the dark about all of it.”

The legal complaint says the Oregon Youth Authority didn’t inform Bruns’ parents about their son’s deteriorating mental health or the treatment he needed to recover. It says his parents didn’t learn that Bruns previously attempted suicide while under state custody until after he died.

In addition to the payment, the legal settlement requires the Looking Glass facility to improve its policies to better serve at-risk youth. The facility will have to notify caregivers of suicide risks, advocate state leaders for improved medical and mental health care for adjudicated youth, increase staff wages, and improve suicide prevention training for all staff.

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988, or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.

Copyright 2022 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.

April Ehrlich began freelancing for Jefferson Public Radio in the fall of 2016, and then officially joined the team as its Morning Edition Host and a Jefferson Exchange producer in August 2017.