Jerry Lawler suing Hardeman County over son’s jail death

Updated: Jul. 29, 2019 at 6:05 PM CDT
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HARDEMAN COUNTY, Tenn. (WMC) - Jerry Lawler has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Hardeman County over the death of his son, Brian Christopher Lawler.

Lawler filed the lawsuit Friday, seeking damages for what he calls "numerous failures of the county and its employees that resulted in the wrongful death of his son."

Brian Lawler, a former WWE superstar, was found hanging in his jail cell in July 2018. He was 46 years old.

His official cause of death was ruled suicide, but Jerry Lawler disputed it at one point. In August 2018, he shared photos of Brian in the hospital before his death. He said the injuries in these photos were not consistent with suicide.

Jeff Rosenblum, attorney for the family, said Monday loved ones had difficulty at first accepting that Lawler would commit suicide but they now believe that is what happened.

Lawler and other family members appeared at a news conference with Rosenblum Monday afternoon discussing the lawsuit, which says jail staff put Brian Lawler in solitary confinement after he was assaulted by another inmate instead of getting him medical care, despite an open wound above his eye and a suspected concussion.

Lawler said Hardeman County Sheriff John Doolen made a convincing case for keeping his son behind bars when Lawler could’ve simply bonded him out of jail. Lawler said Doolen promised to get Brian help, but it never happened. He heard it from Brian himself.

“He said you need help, and we can get you help here, we will get you help and I believed him,” Lawler said. “It wasn’t long after that Brian called me on the phone, Collect call from the jail. And Brian said, Dad sheriff Doolen lied. I haven’t had any help.”

The suit also says jail staff didn’t assess Brian Lawler for a potential suicide risk and left him in the cell with his shoe laces and bolts protruding from the walls, knowing he was diagnosed with major depressive disorder, had a history of drug and alcohol abuse, past suicide attempts and a new head injury. He’d later hang himself inside that cell.

Rosenblum writes that Brian Lawler cried out for help multiple times July 28, 2018 but his cries were ignored, and when a staffer taking out the trash at the facility finally checked on him, guards did not have a proper knife and had to use children’s scissors to cut him down.

The lawsuit states Brian Lawler told jail staff upon intake he’d attempted suicide two times prior, and he was medicated, with a history of depression and anxiety. But the family said the jail computer system changed the “YES” for previous attempts to a “NO” because the suicide incidents happened more than two years before the arrest.

The complaint indicates that surveillance video systems at the jail were not functioning at the time of the incident.

“The Lawler family has asked me to shine a bright spotlight on all the deficiencies at the Hardeman County Jail, so that changes can be and must be made immediately,” said Rosenblum.

Lawler’s mother, Kay McPherson, spoke publicly for the first time about Brian’s death at the news conference. She said the family does not want what happened to Brian to happen to anyone else.

“This shouldn’t have happened,” McPherson said. “We are a grieving family, and we’re sticking together trying to help each one get through each day.”

The family is asking for at least $3 million in damages and assurances that practices at the jail will change.

WMC has reached out to the sheriff’s office for comment on the Lawler lawsuit but hasn’t heard back as of this writing.

Earlier this month, Hardeman County Sheriff John Doolen announced he was suing the county to get funding for public safety. The county’s mayor called it a scare tactic.

It is unclear if that lawsuit is directly related to the Lawler matter, but Rosenblum said the county was aware the Lawler family would be moving forward with a lawsuit.

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