Murder suspect’s mother sues DCSO over 2018 jail suicide

The mother of a Bend man suspected of killing his girlfriend then committing suicide in jail has filed a lawsuit against the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office and members of the jail staff.

According to court documents, Bryan Michael Penner hung himself from a towel in the jail shower on March 11th, 2018. He died the next day.

He was in custody on charges related to the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend Sara Gomez, who went missing in February 2018. He was the only suspect in the case after police found blood and ropes in his apartment during a search.

Gomez’s body was found in late May 2018 east of Bend off of Highway 20.

Penner’s mother, Brigitte Thomas, filed the lawsuit in federal court earlier this year saying the “defendants knew Mr. Penner was a suicide risk and failed to take measures to monitor and protect him.”

The suit names jail supervisor Joshua Whitcomb, jail shift supervisor Blair Barkhurst and Kaitlyn Kitaji, a mental health services provider at the jail.

It asks for a jury trial for damages, attorneys’ fees and “further additional relief as this court may deem appropriate and just.”

“The Sheriff’s Office, and the individually-named deputies and staff, deny all of the claims brought by Ms. Thomas and intend to vigorously defend against them,” said Sheriff’s Office Spokesman Sgt. William Bailey.

Sara Gomez

The suit claims the jail failed to protect Penner from himself and from others in the jail who wanted to harm him.

“Defendants knew Mr. Penner was at risk of severe injury or death at the hands of other inmates due to the rumors regarding his girlfriend’s disappearance, and failed to take reasonable measures to monitor and protect him,” the suit claims.

According to the complaint, there is video showing Penner trying to hang himself in his jail cell in late February, shortly after he was arrested.

Additionally, investigating officers learned from a friend of Penner that he had recently tried to kill himself following a breakup with Gomez.

The complaint also shows that in a recorded phone call from jail he discussed a suicide note he left in his apartment and described a noose left in his apartment from a 2017 suicide attempt.

“At all material times, the Defendants knew and acted with deliberate indifference toward the obvious and substantial risk Mr. Penner would, and actually did, attempt suicide while in Defendants’ custody, as evinced above,” according to the complaint.

In a 2018 interview with our news partner KBND, Deschutes County Corrections Captain Michael Shults said Penner had been at the jail 10 times since 2007 and never showed signs of being a suicide risk.

Calls to an attorney representing Thomas were not returned.

On June 6th 2018, District Attorney John Hummel confirmed that Penner left a note on his bunk in the jail, in which he denied killing Gomez and claimed that she had gotten back together with him before she went missing.

You can read the full complaint below:

Penner Complaint
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