A North Carolina state investigation found that Wake, N.C., detention officers didn’t keep a proper eye on an 18-year-old man who hanged himself in the county jail five months ago while awaiting a psychiatric evaluation, reports the Raleigh News & Observer. Jose Humberto Lara-Pineda is among six inmates in county jails this year who didn’t get proper supervision in the hours before they died, state Department of Health and Human Services investigators say. They included a 17-year-old girl who hanged herself in the Durham jail and a 61-year-old man who died of natural causes in the Johnston County jail. A News & Observer series, “Jailed to Death,” reported that state investigators had cited jails across the state for poor oversight in the cases of 51 inmates who died in county jails in the past five years.
The stories showed why some jail deaths are not reported, how some jails struggle to care for mentally-ill and drug-addicted inmates, and that some judges allow legal settlements to be kept secret. State rules require that inmates be checked at least twice an hour, and at minimum four times an hour if the inmate is believed to be suicidal, mentally ill, on drugs or alcohol, or behaving erratically. The state investigation said that Lara-Pineda was on a special psychiatric watch and should have been checked four times an hour. Logs of inmate checks showed they didn’t happen at that frequency until 87 minutes had gone by. Wake Sheriff Donnie Harrison fired two detention officers after Lara-Pineda was found, but he said supervision wasn’t the problem. He cited other policy violations, without specifying which ones.