Legal Times has done some pretty damn great coverage of the recent inmate suicides at the D.C. Jail. But despite their strong stories, its reporter did not get any sense that the powers that be give a shit. Councilmember Phil Mendelson didn’t even return the man’s calls. And DOC poobah Devon Brown refused comment. So today, this came into our inboxes—-a massive e-mail the Legal Times news editor sent to various government muckety-mucks wondering aloud: What the fuck are you gonna do about those suicides?
From: Brendan Smith
Sent: Tuesday, April 10, 2007 2:58 PM
Subject: Legal Times seeks responses on suicides of mentally ill inmates in the D.C. Jail
April 10, 2007
Dear Mayor Adrian Fenty and D.C. Councilmembers:
My name is Brendan Smith, and I am the news editor of Legal Times. I am writing to seek any responses or further investigation of the recent suicides of two mentally ill inmates in the D.C. Jail. There appears to be little oversight of the D.C. Department of Corrections in relation to these deaths, which also raise questions about the reliability and timeliness of psychological assessments of mentally ill inmates.
On March 31, Alicia Edwards, who suffered from bipolar disorder, hanged herself in the jail while awaiting trial on a couple shoplifting cases and some related charges. Jail officials claimed she was housed in the mental-health unit under increased observation by clinical staff. This false information was reported last week by The Washington Post and The Examiner. I published an article yesterday that revealed Edwards actually was being held in a single cell in the intake unit, where she was not under increased observation because a required mental-health assessment still hadn’t been completed by jail health-care contractor Unity Health Care. Here is a link to the story:
On Dec. 23, Thomas Alemayehu also hanged himself in a single cell in the intake unit, and he also was not under suicide watch. Two days before his death, a psychologist from the D.C. Department of Mental Health found he showed no signs of suicidal tendencies or any mental illness in a court-ordered mental competency screening. One day after being found to be mentally competent, Alemayehu’s erratic behavior in court caused him to reject a plea deal that would have set him free for a couple traffic charges. Instead, he was sent back to the jail where he hanged himself less than 24 hours later. Both his friends and family said he suffered from serious mental problems that should have been obvious to a psychologist. Here is a link to an article on his case published last week in Legal Times:
I am not aware of any external investigation of either suicide. The Corrections Department conducts its own investigations, even though its own employees, contractors or managers may be at fault. This presents an inherent conflict of interest.
I am still reporting on these suicides and their repercussions. Please call or email me with any comments or responses about further investigation of these deaths. Thank you for your time and attention to this matter.
Best, Brendan Smith
1730 M Street NW, Suite 800
Washington, D.C. 20036
Office: (202) 828-0340
Fax: (202) 457-0718
CC: D.C. Office of the Inspector General U.S. Justice Department Civil Rights Division D.C. Department of Mental Health Office of Accountability D.C. Prisoners’ Project University Legal Services