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Court monitors report six deaths at Hinds County Jail in 2021

Published: Oct. 29, 2021 at 5:02 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Days after a sixth inmate died at the Hinds County Detention Center, the court-appointed monitor put in place to inform on conditions there has slammed the county for numerous violations to its consent decree order.

On October 18, Michael Richardson was found in the jail’s A-Pod. A preliminary investigation determined that the detainee had been assaulted by several other inmates and died after a “medical episode.”

Richardson was the sixth inmate to die at the Raymond facility this year, according to court records. Other deaths were reported in March, April, July, and August.

Two deaths were the results of apparent suicides, one was the result of a drug overdose, and one was the result of complications of COVID-19, according to the monitor’s report.

A detainee died in March prior to being booked after a jail nurse said he needed to be taken to the hospital and after detention officers refused to do so.

“Subsequently the arrestee collapsed, and the nurse was called back from medical to perform CPR,” the monitor wrote. “When she asked why the individual had not been transported to the hospital, she was told that staff wanted another evaluation first.”

Meanwhile, the nurse’s effort to provide medical treatment was delayed when officials had to find an extension cord to hook up the O2 concentrator and after someone had to run back to the medical unit to obtain a defibrillator.

Despite that, the Hinds County Sheriff’s Office did not consider that arrestee to be an inmate because he had not been booked prior to his death.

The latest death was caused after Richardson was assaulted in the jail’s A-Pod, “where the doors don’t lock and there is minimal staff supervision.”

At about 4:30 or 5 that morning, jail surveillance shows Richardson being hit in the head by a fellow detainee, court records indicate. A second inmate stomped on Richardson’s head several times, and he was dragged across the mezzanine, the report states.

“The video footage shows brief movement by the decedent and then none, indicating that he was probably dead at that point, but a time of death has not been established,” the monitor wrote. “He was eventually dragged back and propped in a sitting position and then later laid on a mat.”

“He was not discovered by officers until 1:45, almost nine hours later. This was despite the fact that breakfast and lunch was served, and well-being checks were supposedly being made.”

The monitor says the deaths “raise concerns that have been consistently raised in prior monitoring reports” and that “the information available points out the ongoing problems and practices that have been raised repeatedly by the monitoring team.”

A monitoring team made up of Elizabeth Simpson, David Parrish, Jim Moeser and Richard Dudley was put in place by U.S. District Court Carlton Reeves to ensure the county was complying with a federal consent decree.

The county entered into the decree in 2016, in part, to improve living conditions at the Hinds County Detention Center in Raymond.

Among problems, the consent decree was designed to better protect detainees, improve officer training standards, increase staffing and improve jail living conditions.

Five years later, though, problems at the facility persist.

Monitor reports submitted to the court this year point out everything from the existence of “trash dumpster cells” to inmates living in darkness... because most of the lights do not work.”

Monitors continue to cite staffing problems, saying that those issues contributed in part to several of this year’s inmate deaths.

The area where Richardson was housed, for instance, has “minimal staff supervision.”

“As has been reported, sometimes there is only an officer in the control room with no officers assigned to the housing units,” the monitors say.

The team also questions why Richardson’s body was not found for nine hours and why the inmate activity was not observed on cameras in the control room.

In the case of the April 18 incident, where an inmate was found hanging in a booking holding cell, the officer “who was assigned to work the booking floor was not at his designated post.”

“Booking officers often congregate in the office instead of being on the floor where 15-minute well-being checks must be conducted on all inmates,” the report states.

The officer that discovered the inmate only did so because he was called to booking to process two new arrestees.

“He saw the inmate hanging from a light fixture in holding cell 1124... The officer had not been issued a set of keys, so he had to obtain them from officers in the booking office in order to enter the cell,” the monitors told the court.

One officer was working double duty when another inmate was found hanging from a light fixture on July 6.

“That officer was responsible for conducting 30-minute well-being checks on the inmates in that unit and for making 15-minute notations on inmates in... the suicide watch unit, where observation is supposed to be constant.”

“One officer should never have been held responsible for both duties,” the report states.

The report goes on to state that despite these deaths, “no apparent corrective action” is being taken to prevent future inmate deaths.

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