Probe of suicide attempt clears jail Sheriff says report shows inmate hoarded prescription drugs

July 08, 1998|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Carroll County Sheriff John H. Brown said a state police investigation of last month's attempted suicide at the detention center by Smith Harper Dean III found no misconduct by anyone -- except Dean.

Dean, the suspect in a double slaying, apparently hoarded his prescription drugs, the report said, before taking an overdose the night of June 10.

The incident was days before the anniversary of the killings of a former girlfriend and her date, and before his expected transfer to Howard County for a trial on double murder charges. Prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty.

In a two-page letter to a reporter at The Sun, timed and dated by Dean about two hours before the suicide attempt was discovered at 11: 20 p.m., Dean wrote: "I'm so sorry -- the only way is out." He did not indicate whether he had taken pills.

Correctional officers reported finding the 39-year-old unconscious in an isolation cell, about five minutes after they had checked on him and found everything normal. He had been removed from the jail's general population that day after a fight with another prisoner.

The sheriff immediately requested a state police investigation and launched an in-house review.

Brown said he would not release the report of the state police investigation until he read the entire 2-inch-thick document. He said he was unaware until yesterday that it had arrived.

"I'm just not going to release it now," he said. "I'm just skimming it now. I just got it this [Tuesday] afternoon."

The sheriff read aloud part of the conclusions, which stated that the investigation found "there appears to be no evidence of criminal conduct by anyone other than Smith Harper Dean III for the illegal possession of his issued prescription medication. However, due to Dean ingesting the pills, no physical evidence exists that would allow for criminal prosecution."

The report credited the quick action of jail staff with saving Dean's life, Brown said. Dean had talked to inmates and had written to the reporter indicating that he intended to kill himself.

Attorneys for Dean and for The Sun declined to cooperate in the investigation, the report noted.

Correctional officers are trained to dispense medications, but are not authorized to conduct searches of body cavities where Dean hid the pills, Brown said.

Dean was not under a suicide watch, but was placed in isolation as a disciplinary measure because of the fight with the inmate that morning. By then, he apparently had saved medication for a suicide attempt, the sheriff said.

The report said the medication was prescribed "to lessen the anxieties of Mr. Dean and probably to lessen the desire to kill himself."

"By not taking the medicine as prescribed, it did not have the desired effect," the sheriff said. The medication was increased.

Dean was taken in critical condition to Carroll County General Hospital and spent about a week there before being transferred to Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center in Jessup.

His trial has been rescheduled for Sept. 21 in Howard County, where it was moved to avoid pretrial publicity. The state is charging Dean with two counts of murder in the June 14, 1997, shotgun slayings of Sharon Lee Mechalske, 38, of Hampstead and Kent Leonard Cullison, 30, an Arcadia mail carrier on his second date with her.

Brown said he had had no indication that Dean needed to be watched as the trial date and the anniversary of the killings approached.

In September 1997, John T. Titus, 33, of Timonium, hanged himself at the detention center while under a suicide watch, after two attempts to cut his wrists and an apparent drug overdose at the time of his arrest. Titus was charged with murder after his estranged wife, Patricia A. Titus, 40, was found strangled at her home in Hampstead in June 1997.

Pub Date: 7/08/98

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