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Marion officials unaware of suicide settlement

Staff writer

Marion’s city administrator and at least two of five city council members didn’t know the city had settled a lawsuit about a mentally ill inmate who committed suicide in county jail until they read so in last week’s Record.

The city’s insurance company settled the lawsuit, administrator Brogan Jones said.

“We don’t know why we weren’t notified,” he said.

The city’s insurance agent, Casey Case, also didn’t know EMC Insurance had settled the lawsuit, Jones said.

The mother and children of suicide victim Julie Starks agreed to settle June 20 for $15,000. Stark hanged herself Dec. 5, 2020. Former Marion assistant police chief Steve Janzen had arrested Stark.

Stark’s family also is suing Marion County. That case has been moved to Sedgwick County.

“Although both the Marion Police Department and the Marion County Sheriff’s Department knew that Julie Starks had a history of mental illness and suicide attempts, (they) did not place (her) on suicide watch, did not take her belt away, did not take her shoelaces away, and did not properly supervise or monitor her,” the lawsuit claims.

City council should have signed off on the settlement, member Ruth Herbel said.

“We are the head of the city, and we should be aware of what’s happening,” Herbel said Friday. “We need to be aware so we can respond to the public. I don’t like being kept in the dark.”

City council member Jerry Kline said he was unaware as well.

“I didn’t know anything about it,” Kline said.

Asked whether he was concerned about the council not being privy to the deal, he replied: “Oh yeah, kind of.”

Kevin Burkholder, the newest council member, said he didn’t have any comment on whether he knew about the settlement.

“I just got back off of vacation last night, so I haven’t looked at my information from the city so at this point I don’t have a comment on that,” Burkholder said Friday, adding he had been gone a week.

Asked by email whether he knew, council member Zach Collett didn’t answer the question directly but wrote: “This was settled through our insurance company. Please get with Case & Sons Insurance for any further information.”

Mayor David Mayfield did not return a phone call.

Jones said Friday he planned to issue a statement about the settlement at Monday’s city council meeting. He didn’t.

Instead, city officials discussed the settlement after Mayfield had adjourned the meeting.

The council met June 26 in executive session about pending litigation, but it was not about this case, city attorney Brian Bina wrote in an email. The council returned from that closed-door meeting and said it had taken no action. It involved pending litigation, and the city used attorney-client privilege as a reason to close the meeting.

“There was no executive session to discuss this matter,” Bina wrote.

“EMC extended an offer to settle on behalf of the City of Marion through the policy,” Bina wrote. “It was accepted. There were no city funds expended by this settlement as EMC was the insurer.” 

Last modified July 13, 2023

 

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