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R. Kelly Files A Lawsuit From Prison Shortly After Being Put On Suicide Watch

R. Kelly talks to Gayle King on CBS News.
(Image credit: CBS News)

Nearly a week after R. Kelly was sentenced to 30 years in prison for violations of federal anti-sex trafficking laws, the disgraced singer remains on suicide watch, despite arguments from his legal team that his constitutional rights are being violated. Shortly after he was placed on suicide watch, Kelly filed a lawsuit asking for compensatory damages and to be taken off suicide watch immediately. 

On July 1, Law & Crime reports that R. Kelly (real name Robert Sylvester Kelly) filed a Bivens action — which claims a person’s civil liberties were violated by federal officials — against Bureau of Prisons regional official Heriberto H. Tellez, the warden of the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, the federal government, and other MDC officials. He also sued under the Federal Tort Claims Act, claiming that the suicide watch determination was made without him being suicidal and resulted in severe mental distress.

In the eight-page federal lawsuit, R. Kelly is seeking to be taken off suicide watch as well as for “compensatory damages for all emotional distress, humiliation, pain and suffering, and other harm in an amount to be determined at trial.”

R. Kelly’s lawyer Jennifer Bonjean spoke out against her client being put on suicide watch following his sentencing — which came nine months after he was found guilty on charges of racketeering and violations of the Mann Act. Bonjean argued that he was not suicidal and the decision was made for “purely punitive reasons.” In a memorandum filed in addition to Kelly’s lawsuit, per Law & Crime, Bonjean said she was informed the reasons he was on “psych alert” were various and included “age, crime, publicity, and sentencing.” She said in the memo:

This explanation suggests that the reasons for placing Mr. Kelly on suicide watch have nothing to do with him as an individual or even whether he actually is a suicide risk.

However, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York submitted a response to the lawsuit, saying R. Kelly’s request to be removed from suicide watch should be dismissed, and that his placement was a result of the in-person assessment given after he returned to MDC after the 30-year sentence was doled out. The government said in their reply:

Based on the clinical assessment and in accordance with Bureau of Prisons policy for preventing suicides, Plaintiff remains on suicide watch for his own safety. Plaintiff provides no salient authority that would permit this Court to take the unprecedented step of mandating that BOP remove an inmate from suicide watch.

We’ll have to see what comes of this lawsuit if it goes to trial. R. Kelly is also set to stand trial in Chicago on federal charges of obstruction and child pornography, and he also faces state charges in Illinois and Minnesota. 

His 30-year prison sentence came following decades of allegations of sexual abuse. In 1994, R. Kelly illegally married 15-year-old singer Aaliyah Haughton, who died in 2001. He was arrested in 2002 on 21 counts of child pornography but was ultimately acquitted. In 2017, he faced accusations of brainwashing women, which was followed by a sexual battery lawsuit in 2018. The 2019 Lifetime docuseries Surviving R. Kelly (now available to Netflix subscribers) shined a spotlight on the allegations, and Kelly was arrested shortly thereafter.

Heidi Venable
Heidi Venable

Mom of two and hard-core '90s kid. Unprovoked, will quote Friends in any situation. Can usually be found rewatching The West Wing instead of doing anything productive.