CONCORD, N.H. -- A pair of lawsuits demonstrates how difficult it can be for county jails to cope with mentally ill inmates.
Kevin Hall of Keene has destroyed heating vents, mirrors, lights, and speakers in jail cells, then used the sharp pieces of metal and glass to cut himself.
He also has swallowed small pieces of metal -- including the frames of his eyeglasses -- and shards of broken pottery, according to a handwritten lawsuit he filed in US District Court.
In less than three months in the Cheshire County jail, he caused nearly $11,000 worth of damage to his cells and swallowed enough metal to require repeated surgeries and rack up medical bills of more than $40,000.
The Cheshire County attorney charged Hall with felony criminal mischief for the damage to the jail cells, but dropped the charges without comment last week in the middle of trial, according to the Sunday Monitor of Concord.
Hall sued the county in federal court last year, arguing jail officials failed to protect him from himself and did not get him the medical help he needed.
''He was a difficult inmate for the institution to be able to handle," said John Curran, the lawyer defending the county.
Authorities say Hall has a lengthy record, including convictions for assault, threatening, harassment, and weapons possession.
Jail superintendent Richard Van Wickler said he gets along with Hall personally, and knew, due to Hall's prior stays, that he had a history of self-mutilation. But Van Wickler said he did not understand what caused him to hurt himself.
Hall's father, Donald Hall, believes his son is mentally ill, but said he has never cooperated with psychologists long enough to be diagnosed and treated properly.
He said he suspects his son swallows metal ''because he's upset with himself, for one thing, and he doesn't think anybody likes him."
Kevin Hall's last stay in the Cheshire County jail came in 2004, while he was awaiting trial on charges of threatening to kill his father, his sister, and her children.
In his lawsuit, he said that after behaving well for two months, he began to get upset about frightening his father and sister. His suicidal talk apparently spooked cellmates, who asked not to be housed with him.
After snapping at a correctional officer who tried to discuss the issue with him, Kevin Hall said he went back to his cell and began swallowing wires and a shard of pottery. He then was placed in isolation.
Kevin Hall's lawsuit said he was promised repeatedly that he could see a doctor and get X-rays, but days went by with no medical attention, so he cut himself, hoping that would force guards to take him to a doctor. He also asked to be transferred to a cell where other people could see him.
Court records indicate a mobile unit gave Kevin Hall X-rays at least twice, and he was taken to Cheshire Hospital once for surgery.
He was transferred to the Hillsborough County jail in February 2005 and told guards there about the objects he had swallowed. He was taken to Elliot Hospital in Manchester, where he had surgery to remove pieces of metal and part of his intestine.
Hall's lawyer, Ted Barnes, said he believes Kevin Hall's behavior in jail was bizarre, but not completely irrational.
''He knew what he needed -- he needed to be in a visible cell so that he could be watched and so he could see people, as that calms him down so that he does not inflict self-harm," Barnes said.
After surgery, Van Wickler had Kevin Hall transferred to the Merrimack County jail in Concord. He was released last week when the criminal charges were dropped.