Friday, February 15, 2008

Suicide Leads to Change At Jail

Suicide Leads to Change At Jail
ByShoshana Walter & Jeremy Maready

BARTOW Drawstring cords were removed from all inmate laundry bags in the Polk County Jail on Thursday in response to an inmate's suicide by hanging Monday.

Precautionary measures were first taken in the jail's special-needs unit, where deputies began removing the drawstrings Wednesday, said Polk Sheriff Grady Judd.

"It's one issue after another in the county jail," Judd said. "We have about 2,400 criminals in jail who have nothing better to do everyday other than to frustrate our attempts to protect them."

Asked whether he was concerned about the possibility of inmates' usingthe cords as lethal weapons against detention deputies, Judd said he was more concerned about prisoners' using the drawstrings to kill themselves.

When deputies are among the general population, they are constantly watched to ensure their safety, said Scott Wilder, a PCSO spokesman.

Rigid objects used for stabbing pose the greatest threat, he said.

James Mark Garry, 39, who was housed in a cell alone, hanged himself with the drawstring cord from a mesh laundry bag Monday morning. The corded laundry bag, as well as items such as bed sheets and shoelaces, are not given to inmates on suicide watch, but are available to inmates in special-needs units, Judd said.

The special-needs unit is for inmates who have drug or alcohol addictions or who have identified themselves as mentally ill. While inmates are more closely monitored, it is not as strict as a suicide watch and inmates are allowed the same items as the general population. Garry is the first inmate to hang himself since February 2003, when Christopher Roccia of Sanford used a bedsheet to commit suicide in his cell, according to The Ledger's archives.

The mesh laundry bags, which have been in use for about five years, are the second or third generation of bags used at the jail, Judd said. In place of the cord, which helps keep the clothes in the bag when being washed, the jail will use plastic zip ties.

But the use of the ties might prove too cumbersome for detention deputies, who must collect them each time to prevent inmates from shaping the plastic into weapons, Judd said.

Deputies will conduct Garry's death investigation and an internal investigation into the jail's procedures, policies and reactions to the suicide. The State Attorney's Office will review the findings by the Sheriff's Office.

The Polk County Medical Examiner's Office conducted an autopsy Wednesday that confirmed that Garry died by hanging.

During this past year, the Polk County jail booked in about 31,000 people, Judd said. "These folks are busy all the time. Occasionally, one of those 31,000 people are going to do absolutely irrational acts.

"People have free will," Judd said. "If we could take all the strings and bedsheets away, what's to keep them from jumping off the second-floor balcony and taking a head dive onto the concrete floor below? You can't make a jail suicide-proof."

Items such as razors and other materials that could be fashioned into weapons and given to inmates are carefully monitored and inventoried, Wilder said.

Meanwhile, friends of Garry's are questioning why he was placed in the special-needs unit at the Polk County Jail rather than on suicide watch after deputies were told he left a suicide note.

According to Migdalia Denizard, 58, with whom Garry was living, Garry had written a note addressed to her and her daughter stating he would "see you in heaven" the night he was arrested at her house and charged with two counts of arson and four counts of attempted murder for setting fire to his ex-wife's apartment.

Denizard said she gave a taped statement to a detective the night of Garry's arrest stating that she thought he intended to kill himself. Judd said Garry would have been placed on suicide watch had he identified himself as suicidal.

But after conversations with three deputies and the jail's medical intake team, Garry denied having suicidal thoughts, even when asked specifically about the note to Denizard, Wilder said. "He said he was upset and angry, but not suicidal."

Following the initial screening, Garry was placed in the special-needs unit, in part because of the reported mental illness and because of the note's reference to suicide, Wilder said.

Denizard said Garry was supposed to be on medication for bipolar disorder and that he took other medications including a painkiller for a back injury and medications for anxiety, bipolar disorder and depression. In the interview with deputies, Garry said he could not control what "the voices in his mind tell him to do," an arrest report said.

Inmates are allowed to take legitimate medications for professionally diagnosed medical conditions, but only after meeting with PCSO's doctor and psychological personnel.

Garry did not get to that point, Wilder said.

"He had all the opportunity in the world to say, 'I'm suicidal,'" Judd said. "Had it been communicated that he was suicidal, he would have been put on suicide watch.

"Just because someone else claims he's suicidal. … I'm not sure that's enough to get him on suicide watch," Judd said.

Garry was arrested Sunday night after deputies say he went to his ex-wife's duplex at 158 Shannon Drive in North Lakeland and set it on fire. He had forced his way into the apartment Saturday night and had chased his ex-wife into the front yard, where he punched and kicked her, the Sheriff's Office said.

Denizard said deputies searched her home for Garry on Sunday night but did not find him. When they left, they told her to call 911 if Garry came back, she said.

Later that night, she went into the hallway and saw the light on in his room. She said she called 911 and kept the phone on as she walked into his room, where she saw him writing a note. When she confronted him, he gave the note to her and admitted he had set fire to his ex-wife's house and stolen her boyfriend's car, she said. She said she tried to talk him into turning himself in, but he said he did not want to go to prison again, hugged and kissed her, told her goodbye and left the house.

Deputies arrived soon after and detained Garry behind the back of the house, she said.

Denizard said Garry was a friend to her and her daughter. He had been living there for a little over a month, she said.

"It hurt me but I thought I was really helping him," she said. "I thought it was for his own good. If I let him go and he kills people … if he's in jail at least he's safe and he won't kill himself."

At 7:23 a.m. Monday, a detention deputy went to Garry's cell to tell him that he should get ready for his video first-appearance hearing. At 7:35 a.m., two deputies went to his cell and found him hanging from the window bars.

The deputies immediately cut him down and began CPR. He was taken to Bartow Regional Medical Center, where he died just after 3 p.m.

[ Shoshana Walter can be reached at or 863-802-7590. Jeremy Maready can be reached at or 863-802-7592. ]

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