The mother of Andrew Little, a 34-year old man who took his own life while in custody at the Delaware County prison two years ago today, filed suit against the county as well as numerous other parties, seeking damages for her son’s death because of “deliberate indifference” and “medical negligence” to Little’s mental state.

The federal suit, filed Friday in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, also names Wellpath and the GEO group as defendants, as well as ten “Jane” and “John Doe” corrections officers. Wellpath is the health care provider for the county prison, and the GEO group is the private entity that last ran the prison, even though GEO’s management of the facility was terminated roughly two months before Little’s death.

Janet Owens, Little’s mother, is seeking a jury trial and a judgment of $150,000 or more “for wrongful death and survival damages, compensatory and punitive damages[.]” She is represented by Lamb McErlane PC, a law firm in West Chester.

The lawsuit argues that because Little had been in the prison before, the administrators were aware or should have been aware of his history of mental illness.

“Despite such knowledge, Defendants ignored, if not exacerbated, Little’s obvious suicidal propensities and failed to take necessary and available precautions which would have saved his life,” the suit says.

The complaint also lays out information exclusively obtained and published by Broad + Liberty earlier in the year which showed some prison officials were aware there were systemic problems with the door locks and the remote controls used to control those locks in April of 2022.

On April 15, 2022, a sergeant at the GWHCF emailed several other staff members that “On unit 10, we have multiples [sic] doors issues, ranging from broken locks to doors not being able to open or only open with keys.”

Then, on the day of Little’s suicide, the first officer to arrive on the scene couldn’t get into the cell immediately because the remote control to the door wasn’t working, according to a prison incident report. Little was in a cell on unit 10.

“Sgt. McDevitt stated that the cell door was inoperable from the Control room, so he quickly proceeded to the main hallway to retrieve the cell key from Officer Kpadeya,” the incident report notes.

A portion of the incident report for Andrew Little. Highlights have been made after the fact by Broad + Liberty.

Sources familiar with the prison layout say having to run back to retrieve the key from the control room could have added anywhere from two to four extra minutes before someone was able to begin administering aid.

Speaking by phone on the two year anniversary of Andrew’s death, Owens was emotional.

“No one there [from the prison] ever reached out and said, ‘I’m so sorry for your loss. I’m sorry that this happened. My thoughts are with you.’ Anything — nothing. I was a director of nursing at a surgery center and that’s what we did. Just let people know that you’re human and they’re human and you feel them. And the one time I did hear from the pastor or the chaplain, she didn’t even know anything and had to call back three times, or two times rather.”

No one there [from the prison] ever reached out and said, ‘I’m so sorry for your loss. I’m sorry that this happened. My thoughts are with you.’ Anything — nothing.

If she wins a financial judgment, Owens is already working on certain changes she’d like to see, not only at the prison, but in regards to some health privacy laws, which she felt were harmfully keeping her from being able to get her son help.

Owens says she is working with a local attorney who has also suffered family loss, and feels the same way about the need for tweaks to privacy laws like the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (commonly known as HIPAA.).

“She’s the lawyer, so she knows what can fly and what, as far as what changes need to be made legally to the HIPAA — statues that are old and never updated. So we’ll use money for that and hopefully some type of, maybe a halfway house or a place where these kids, when they’re ready to leave, they can get out and someone’s there to help them get used to being back in normal life because no one ever helped Andrew with that. It’s just like, ‘Here you are. Figure it out on your own.’”

Reducing recidivism at the George W. Hill Correctional Facility was the county’s number one priority when deciding to throw out the private manager and reinstate government management in April 2022. Since then, county records show recidivism rates have remained relatively unchanged at about 60 percent.

Meanwhile, the prison’s budget has been constantly increasing in the last two years even though the monthly average number of inmates is down from 1,800 to 1,200 — or about 30 percent.

The county declined to comment on this story because it does not comment on pending litigation. An emailed request for comment to Wellpath was not immediately returned.

The county is also facing other serious lawsuits related to the prison.

A group of former correctional officers who were let go in the 2022 management transition have filed suit arguing they were improperly fired. 

The estate of a man who is believed to have been killed at the hands of a cellmate in 2022 filed suit last month. A former guard who worked on that cell block that day gave an exclusive interview with Broad + Liberty in which he said he warned others that the two inmates were so dangerous they were not supposed to be housed with other inmates, let alone housed with each other.

Other similar, recent litigation has named GEO as a defendant, but in cases where the death happened after the management transfer, this is usually a legal precaution. In the lawsuit related to the alleged cellmate murder, GEO was named as a defendant, but has since been dropped. The incident happened just weeks after the management transfer.

Meanwhile, tensions between the county management and the rank and file have been constantly rising since the takeover. After complaining about increasing dangers and sinking morale for more than a year, a group of correctional officers recently launched a no-confidence petition against Warden Laura Williams. As of this publishing, the petition is nearing 500 signatures, although Broad + Liberty is unable to verify how many of those signatures are from current employees of the county.

In 2017, the prison settled a lawsuit for $7 million over the death of Janene Wallace, who took her own life two years earlier. Wallace’s death became a rallying point of the campaign to deprivatize the GWHCF.

Todd Shepherd is Broad + Liberty’s chief investigative reporter. Send him tips at, or use his encrypted email at @shepherdreports

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