Family reaches nearly $2.5M settlement in wrongful death lawsuit

Brett Bruns' high school graduation photo.
Brett Bruns' high school graduation photo.

The family of a 19-year-old who was placed at Looking Glass Community Services in Eugene by the state before killing himself three years ago has reached a nearly $2.5 million settlement in a wrongful death lawsuit against Looking Glass, a supervisor at the facility and the Oregon Youth Authority.

Brett J.J. Bruns died Dec. 3, 2019, after he was allowed to exit Looking Glass. The Looking Glass supervisor named in the suit, Nicolas Brown, let Bruns out knowing he was suicidal but did not inform Eugene Police of that when he reported Bruns as a runaway, court documents allege.

Looking Glass Community Services is a contractor to OYA and provides residential services as a drug and alcohol treatment facility.

Brown put Bruns on suicide watch Nov. 30, 2019, in a secure area of the facility. Brown observed Bruns attempting to make a noose with his shoelaces but did not confiscate the laces per protocol, according to court documents.

The next morning, Brown let Bruns leave the facility despite Bruns still being on suicide watch. Bruns' body was found in Armitage Park Dec. 3, 2019.

The morning Bruns was allowed to leave the facility, a Looking Glass employee called Bruns' family to report he had run away and asked the family to notify Looking Glass if he went to the family home. The employee did not notify Bruns’ family he was on suicide watch, according to the lawsuit. It wasn’t until Dec. 2, 2019, that Bruns’ probation officer called Bruns’ family back to report he had been on suicide watch.

Dave Park, the family's attorney, said Bruns' parents felt "a sense of accomplishment for Brett to honor his memory with the changes" and "emotional relief that it was coming to a close."

"Their focus was to do what they could to make sure that Brett's experience was not repeated with another kid," Park said.

Joe Bruns in a statement said Brett wanted to help disadvantaged and bullied youth and the terms of the settlement will help fulfill those goals in his memory.

Brett Bruns with parents Joe and Christina.
Brett Bruns with parents Joe and Christina.

The lawsuit alleged Looking Glass “lacked adequate security staffing, supervision and protocols to protect youth at risk of self-harm.”

Due to staffing, Brown was working a 48-hour shift from Nov. 30 to Dec. 1, 2019.

The lawsuit alleged Brown did not familiarize himself with Bruns’ medical history.

A doctor in 2018 had diagnosed Bruns with major depressive disorder, conduct disorder and various substance abuse disorders. The doctor also noted Bruns was at an elevated risk for suicide and had a history of suicidal ideation, intent and self-harm.

The lawsuit alleged Bruns’ medication management was sporadic, with Bruns being placed on different medications and going for extended periods without receiving regular medication.

The state failed Bruns and his parents, Park said, and a system that's supposed to be about rehabilitation and treatment ended up being about checking boxes and shuffling people out the door.

"The state needs to do a lot more to ensure the physical safety and mental and behavioral health treatment for the youth in their care. If the goal's rehabilitation, then the focus should be on mental health," Park said.

Looking Glass was "very responsive," Park added, and Joe Bruns described changes the center has agreed to implement as "meaningful."

As part of the settlement, Looking Glass agreed to actions to prevent future incidents like this, including:

  • Adding a policy to make sure staff notifies family and police with more urgency about the suicide risk of clients who leave the facility.

  • Work with the OYA and Oregon Health Authority leaders as well as with legislators to advocate for more continuity of care for medical and mental health for those they serve.

  • Provide families with contact information for a youth’s medical and mental health care providers.

  • Provide notification to family when a youth is placed on suicide watch.

  • Inform family if a youth has a history of suicide attempts or self-harm in case file.

  • Increase suicide prevention training for staff.

Looking Glass CEO Craig Opperman said "no parent ever wants to experience the devastation of losing a child" and that people who knew Bruns and cared for him at the facility also miss him and will remember him.

"Looking Glass evaluates our policies, practices, and programs regularly in our mission to provide life-saving interventions to thousands of adolescents and young adults each year," Opperman said in an emailed statement.

The statement said Looking Glass continues to advocate for increased investments in behavioral health care.

Bruns' parents said in a statement that the changes at Looking Glass can serve as a template for the state and other facilities and they hope OYA will revise internal protocols and require other contracted behavioral rehabilitation services providers across the state to adopt the same policies Looking Glass agreed to in the settlement.

The state agency is reviewing the policy recommendations in the settlement and how they can apply them to other programs across the state, spokesperson Jenny Smith said.

"We are committed to effective oversight of all of our contracted programs and regularly review our systems to ensure every youth is provided appropriate support and care," Smith said in an emailed statement.

OYA supports efforts to look at challenges in continuity of care, especially with "youth who often fall into the gaps of the traditional health care system," Smith said, and the agency is "committed to working with partners to make the system less siloed" and to focus on a youth-centered model.

"We appreciate the courage of the Bruns family and the effort in this settlement process to look at how to improve these systems of care and the roles of each agency in doing so," she said.

Help is available

If you or someone you know is considering self-harm or suicide, help is available.

You can call 988 to reach support in English or Spanish 24 hours a day.

Reporter Megan Banta contributed to this story. Makenzie Elliott covers breaking news and public safety for The Register-Guard. Reach her at Find her on Twitter at @makenzielliott.

This article originally appeared on Register-Guard: Family reaches nearly $2.5M settlement in wrongful death lawsuit