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'These incidents are tragic': Rockingham sheriff addresses three inmate suicides in a month
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'These incidents are tragic': Rockingham sheriff addresses three inmate suicides in a month

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WENTWORTH — Three inmates, all under age 30, died during February after attempting suicide at the Rockingham County Detention Facility, Sheriff Sam Page confirmed during a Tuesday press conference at which he pledged to step up suicide risk training and possibly increase staff.

The deaths mark the first suicide attempts at the 232-bed facility in more than a decade, sheriff's officials said.

Inmate Cameron McKinzie Chance, 29, of Elon, N.C., was the most recent to die. He was discovered  by guards early Sunday afternoon after attempting suicide by hanging. He died later Sunday at an area hospital, sheriff's officials said.

The first inmate to die in February after attempting to hang herself at the jail was Ashley Marie Eggleston, 24, of Bassett, Va. Arrested for possession of methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia on Feb. 2, she tried to end her life on Feb. 4 and died at a local hospital on Feb. 5.

Then on Feb. 10, Seth Alexander King, 25, of Reidsville, was jailed at the facility. On Feb. 12, detention officers found King had tried to end his life and first responders rushed him to a Triad area hospital where he died Feb. 15.

"These incidents are tragic and our thoughts and prayers go out to the families,'' Page said, suggesting the regional trend in soaring mental health and substance abuse problems likely contributed to the tragedies.

"More persons are coming into the jails with preexisiting mental health and subsance abuse condiitions,'' Page said, without identifying the victims as suffering with those problems. Two of the three inmates faced drug charges.

"When we experience incidents such as the recent suicide attempts, I look at the existing policies and procedures to make sure they are being followed. I also look at best practices in jail operations and trends that are affecting jails in North Carolina and across the country,'' Page said during the afternoon press conference at the sheriff's office.

"The reality in the modern jail system is that more persons are coming into the jails with pre-existing medical, mental health, and substance abuse issues,'' Page said. "Jails have never been or will ever be the proper place to treat addiction, substance abuse, or mental illness.''

Page commended his staff for their diligence in monitoring the jail, but said he and his officers would reexamine best practices for suicide prevention and safety at the facility and coordinate with other agencies, such as Cone Health's Annie Penn Hospital in Reidsville and UNC Rockingham Health Care in Eden, for ramped up training.

Each of the detention center's 38 staffers has completed a mandatory 23-hour suicide prevention training course, Page explained. And the sheriff will consider adding staff, he said, noting the jail currently houses 181 prisoners.

The jail is run by a daytime staff of 10, and nine officers man the facility at night, Page said.

Standard operating procedure requires that officers do two checks of each cell at irregular intervals each hour, no more than 40 minutes apart. And after the first inmate suicide attempt on Feb.4, Page said he told officers to increase cell checks to three per hour.

There were no "red flags'' to alert detention center staff that Eggleston, King or Chance were at risk for attempting suicide, Page said, explaining each went through a five-step screening process officers conduct before lock up.

Steps include: a medical care and COVID-19 screening, a mental health screening, developmental and intellectual disabilities screening, substance abuse disorder screening and suicide screening, Page said.

Other supports to the jail's safety protocols include: televisits for psychological therapy, Monday through Thursday;  mental health services and support through Daymark Services; and a nurse ion duty 14 hours per day, seven days a week, as well as an oncall regional nurse supervisor and doctor through a contract with Southern Health Partners, Page said.

The county's Division of Public Health signs off on the inmate medical screening plan used by the detention center and medical contract services it uses, Page said.

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"Currently, at my request, these in-custody inmate deaths are under investigation by the North Carolina State Bureau of investigation,'' Page said. 

"As the sheriff of Rockingham County, I am responsible for the operation of the local detention facility, '' Page said. "Every inmate that is committed to our jail in either pre-trial status or serving misdemeanor jail time is of my concern. Every inmate in our jail is someone’s family member who someone loves and cares about. I have the responsibility to make sure that regardless of the inmate's medical or mental health status, or other issues,  when they arrive that we have to provide for the safety, care and custody of the inmate until he or she is released from our facility.''

Page is also asking the county's police departments to scrutinize arrest subjects during booking. Page suggests police ask arrestees if they've consumed heroine, Fentanyl or methamphetamine within the past 24-72 hours, or had any thoughts about suicide.

The FCC unanimously approved designating of a nationwide suicide hotline on Thursday.

Eggleston, King and Chance joined a long roster of inmates who have ended their lives in North Carolina jails in increasing numbers since 2019, statistics show.

In 2019, the state tallied 20 deaths by suicide in its jails, the highest number since North Carolina began keeping an official record of inmate suicides in 2013. 
In 2019, 41% of all jail deaths were deaths by suicide, according to data from a June 2 report by Disability Rights NC.
That year also saw a 67% increase in inmate suicides, up from 12 such deaths in 2018, according to the report.
Statistics for 2020 and the first months of 2021 were not available.
 
“On any given day there are over 18,000 individuals in jails across the state,” Susan Pollitt, DRNC supervising attorney and leading advocate in the area of disabilities and incarceration, said in the June report.

“Many are disabled and endangered by unsafe conditions and lack of health care for mental health disabilities and substance use disorders. Once in jail, without adequate screening and treatment, too many are dying.”

More than half of the 2019 victims were between  26-35.
 
Advocates with DRNC point out in the June report that the 41% rate in 2019 exceeds the national jail suicide rate of 31%, calculated in 2016.

Chance, charged with felony possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia, was placed in the jail at around 6 a.m. on Saturday, where he was being held on a $20,000 secured bond, Suthard said. Chance had lived in Reidsville and Elon over the past decade and had a criminal history dating back to 2013, court records show. Chance's past crimes in Rockingham County included armed robbery, shoplifting and driving with a revoked license. 

King had a friendship with Chance and may have shared housing with him in the Reidsville area, according to family members of Chance. The two were also linked through social media. 

King was charged with two counts of second-degree trespass, resist, obstruct or delay and officer, simple assault, attempted breaking and entering and injury to personal property. He was held on a $7,500 secured bond.

Authorities would not disclose details about exactly how Chance, Eggleston or King harmed themselves, but said all three were housed in cells by themselves, a standard practice during the pandemic.

A spokesperson for the NCSBI was not immediately available for comment on the cases.

If you or someone you know needs help, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24 hours a day. Spanish language assistance available. Call: 1-800-273-8255.

This is a developing story. Please check back often for updates at RockinghamNow.com.

 

Contact Susie C. Spear at sspear@rockinghamnow.com, (336) 349-4331, ext. 6140 and follow @SpearSusie_RCN on Twitter.

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