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4th suicide brings call for jail probe

4-9-2007 Ohio

HAMILTON – After the fourth apparent suicide of an inmate within 10 months, a civil rights group says the rate seems high and is calling for a federal investigation of the Butler County Jail.

Meanwhile, the county sheriff’s office is launching an internal investigation and welcomes the scrutiny.

“I won’t shy away from them,” Sheriff Rick Jones said Monday.

On Saturday, a corrections officer found Timothy James Hughes, 19, hanging in his cell. He was taken to Fort Hamilton Hospital, then to University Hospital, where he died Sunday. That was eight days after inmate Thomas Brotherton, 49, also hanged himself.

Brotherton’s death was the Butler jail’s first suicide since June, when inmates Delbert Osborne, 20, and Elmer Tucker, 38, hanged themselves.

“It’s uncommon to even see one death. But four deaths (within 10 months) is alarming,” said Mike Brickner, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio.

His organization plans to send a letter Tuesday to the U.S. Department of Justice urging an investigation of the jail.

“It could say there’s a problem with the conditions of the jail or the amount of attention the inmate receives and the practices and procedures of the jail,” Brickner said. “It’s a huge indicator that there likely are systemic problems in the jail that need to be addressed right now.”

Monte Mayer, Butler sheriff’s spokesman, said preventing suicides in jail is difficult. “It’s impossible to watch every inmate, every minute of every hour. ... You do everything you can to prevent it, but these guys are here 24/7, and if they really want to do it, they’ll figure out a way to do it.”

Mayer said the jail staff routinely checks on inmates at least once hourly, as state regulations require, and also watches for signs of depression or other mental-health issues.

Clint Nigg, a Butler County coroner’s investigator, pointed out that a person can “start to go brain dead” after being oxygen-deprived for six minutes.

The ACLU sought an investigation of the Butler jail in June 2006 after the two suicides that month. It examined autopsy findings for those two inmates, and found nothing that stood out, Brickner said.

Hughes had been locked up since March 14 on charges of robbery, and possession of drugs and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

Hamilton County has lost only one inmate to suicide in the last year. In June, a 36-year-old used his pants to hang himself in Hamilton County.

Clermont County also has one inmate commit suicide in the past year. In that case, a 40-year-old suffocated himself with a plastic bag. He was in jail on numerous sex charges, officials said. ..more.. by

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