Sheriff's Detectives To Probe All Future Inmate Deaths

April 12, 1992|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff writer

Detectives from the Harford Sheriff's Office will begin investigating all deaths at the county detention center under a new policy.

Administrators at the department, which oversees the detention center, agreed to implement the policy following a recommendation by a countygrand jury concerned about the recent death of an inmate.

Under the current policy, center supervisors decide on a case-by-case basis whether to call in detectives to investigate the death of an inmate, said Lt. Marlin Mills, of the department's courts and correctional services bureau.

"Right now, it's discretionary," Mills said. "That policy is being redone."

Under the new policy, supervisors will be required to notify the department's criminal investigation division, regardless of whether foul play is suspected in an inmate's death, Mills said.

Jerry L. Shipp, the grand jury's foreman, recommended the policy in the jury's report on its three-month term, which concluded March 31. The report was sent to Circuit Judge William O. Carr.

The jury called on the Sheriff's Office to change its policy of inmate death investigations after the death of William Ford, a29-year-old Delaware man serving a 30-day sentence for driving whileintoxicated.

Ford, whose death has been ruled a suicide by Sheriff's Office investigators, suffocated himself with a pillowcase while being held in an isolation cell at the detention center on March 1, the department said.

The inmate had been moved to an isolation cellafter he told the center's correctional officers that he was "havingproblems" with other prisoners, Mills said.

The investigation on Ford's death has been closed. Harford State's Attorney Joseph I. Cassilly said his office will review the grand jury report.

The grand jury's recommendation, as outlined by Shipp, would require the Sheriff's Office to immediately notify the State's Attorney when an inmate dies at the center.

A report of the death also would be reviewed by the grand jury at its next scheduled meeting.

The 23-member grand jury also recommended that the Sheriff's Office install surveillance cameras to monitor inmates in the center's isolation cells.

The department is considering the grand jury's suggestion, Mills said. The center has about 10 isolation cells, but only one camera installed in a corridor of the isolation area.

Each of the center's dormitories is monitored by cameras.

The detention center, at routes 1 and24, holds up to 300 inmates. The inmates are awaiting criminal courttrials or serving sentences.

Ford is the third inmate to have committed suicide since the Sheriff's Office began managing the detention center 20 years ago, Mills said.

"Our security is so close, we usually catch them before they follow through," Mills said.

Cassilly said the Sheriff's Office should have a policy outlining proceduresthat must be followed in the event of an inmate's death.

"That's a major incident at the detention center, in my mind," Cassilly said.

The state's attorney said he expects the department's policy to be reviewed by the next grand jury, whose term begins later this month, to follow a state requirement.

The grand jury is required to appoint a commission to review procedures and monitor conditions at the detention center, Cassilly noted.

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