SUNDAY EDITION | LMPD investigation questions Louisville jail suicides
“These single cells with exposed bars have been the site of multiple in custody deaths via ligature hanging in the past yet the exposed bars remain,” Louisville Metro Police concluded in an investigation.
LOUISVILLE, Ky., (WDRB) – After trying to kill himself at Metro Corrections, Charles Troutman Jr. told a responding officer he had “no reason to live.” Eleven days later, jail officials placed him alone in a cell.
That same day, on Nov. 24, 2015, Troutman tied a bed sheet to his bunk and window bars and hanged himself. He died four days later at University Hospital.
In its investigation, Louisville Metro Police found it “disturbing” that Troutman was placed in a single cell with exposed bars so soon after an unsuccessful suicide attempt. The police investigator also expressed concern about similar suicides at Metro Corrections, an issue the jail’s director has rebuffed.
“These single cells with exposed bars have been the site of multiple in custody deaths via ligature hanging in the past yet the exposed bars remain,” LMPD Sgt. Marcus Laytham wrote in a report completed in November.
Laytham did not identify any of the other suicides he referenced. But in the last four years, seven inmates have committed suicide in Metro Corrections by hanging, according to a WDRB News review of public records and news accounts.
“That’s a big number,” said Margo Schlanger, a law professor at the University of Michigan who specializes in criminal justice. Even taking into account the size of Metro Corrections, Schlanger said the number of suicides in Louisville’s jail over the last four years is about twice the national average.
Before 2013, no inmates had committed suicide at the jail since 2007, according to records provided by the Kentucky Department of Corrections.
Metro Corrections Director Mark Bolton disagreed with the police investigation and noted that the jail had no suicide deaths in 2016.
Regarding Troutman, Bolton said a psychiatrist from the jail’s medical provider cleared him to be taken off suicide watch and moved into the general population, a point not included in the police report.
“There was nothing to indicate – after being cleared – that this individual had any sort of distress or anything to indicate that he was going to harm himself,” Bolton said in an interview last week. “… I think from our perspective, operationally, we handled that case almost perfectly.”
And he said he would be talking to LMPD about Laytham’s mentioning of past suicides and “exposed bars.”
“Jails have bars; pretty common knowledge,” Bolton said, noting that Metro Corrections wasn’t designed to house mentally ill, drug addicts and other high-risk inmates. “I feel there are some elements of that investigation that should have been fleshed out a little bit more. “
Police did not comment about the findings in the investigation.
Metro Corrections changed health-care providers in 2013 when the heroin epidemic exploded and the provider at the time was deemed ill-prepared to handle inmates withdrawing.
The jail’s current health care provider, Tennessee-based Correct Care Solutions, did not respond to requests for comment.
In November, Troutman’s daughter filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit against the city, the jail and its medical care provider, as well as several officers, nurses and Bolton.
In an amended complaint filed earlier this month, after the LMPD investigation was released, attorneys claim the police report shows “a failure to supervise, monitor, and train correctional and medical staff to properly detect the serious medical conditions of inmates” who are suicidal.
Christina Norris, an attorney for Troutman’s family, said the police department is an independent body and Laytham’s investigation “speaks for itself.”
“It’s disingenuous for (Metro Corrections) to say they don’t believe police,” she said.
’No reason to live’
After being arrested on drug charges on Nov. 13, 2015, Troutman attempted to kill himself by wrapping gauze tightly around his neck in the jail’s booking area, according to the police investigation obtained under the Kentucky Open Records Act.
He was found lying on the ground, choking.
After removing the gauze, a responding officer reported that Troutman said he “was a junkie and had no reason to live” because he would be going to prison.
Troutman later denied he had tried to kill himself while talking with a nurse and was described as calm and compliant, according to records in the police investigation.
But due to the incident and a past history of trying to harm himself, Troutman was placed on suicide watch and moved to the jail’s minimum security center on Chestnut Street.
Troutman was cleared to return to general population on Nov. 17, 2015, despite finding he was exhibiting only “fair” judgment, and he was brought back to Metro Corrections on Nov. 21, according to the lawsuit.
Bolton said that Troutman was cleared after a face-to-face meeting with a psychiatrist.
Three days later, after getting into a fight with another inmate in general population, Troutman was put in a single cell, according to the investigation.
“Records do not reflect that any specific warnings were provided regarding Mr. Troutman’s suicide risk,” the lawsuit alleges.
After being placed in an isolated cell, Troutman asked an officer if his bond had been paid. When he was told no, Troutman began to curse and punch and kick his cell door, according to the police investigation.
Despite his history and being in an agitated state, the corrections officer left Troutman alone, according to the lawsuit.
About five to six minutes later, an officer thought he heard the sound of a sheet ripping and shower shoes hitting the ground.
Officers and medical staff cut Troutman down and performed CPR but he never regained consciousness. He was 47.
Schlanger, the law professor, said someone who has threatened to or tried to commit suicide should not be placed in “an isolated setting. You want them near other people.”
Inmates placed in isolation are already in a “high moment of high stress and high tension,” she said. “If you are going to have isolation cells with exposed bars, you need a person there watching.”
The lawsuit alleges Troutman had “sufficient time to remove his bed sheet and affix it in such a way as he could hang himself” without anyone in the jail noticing.
Troutman's daughter, according to the lawsuit, called Metro Corrections more than once to tell them about her father’s “very fragile and depressed state.”
But Bolton said an internal investigation of the suicide by Metro Corrections is almost done and “we cannot find any indication where anyone did anything wrong,” Bolton said. “This case was handled by the book.”
Norris, the attorney for the Troutman family, said she would like to see the jail investigation, saying Metro Corrections “obviously has a self-interest” in that conclusion.
“That’s why we have two independent investigations,” she said.
Suicide is the second-leading cause of deaths in prisons and jails across the country, behind illness, according to a 2013 study by the U.S. Department of Justice.
“People carry their problems with them into jails and prisons and jails and prisons typically make them worse,” said Greg Belzley, an inmate rights attorney in Kentucky. “It is the shock to the system of being incarcerated and not being able to get out of the environment of the jail, which can be extraordinarily horrific.”
Jail conditions often exacerbate mental or emotional problems for inmates, and jail staff often is not trained well enough to spot problems or deal with the issues, according to experts.
Belzley, who has two current wrongful death lawsuits involving Kentucky jails, also said jails are often overcrowded, understaffed and underfunded.
The state Department of Corrections has, he said, for the most part left it up to each individual jail and jailer to deal with the issue of suicides.
The state requires each jail to have a written policy and procedure on dealing with people at risk for suicide and that it is reported to the state within 24 hours of an inmate killing themselves.
“They need more guidance on this issue,” Belzley said. “They need directives, they need mandates, they need things they must comply with.”
Both inmates in Belzley’s pending lawsuits were suicide threats but were allegedly put in areas where they were able to hang themselves, without proper monitoring.
“It highlights the importance of putting somebody into what’s called a ‘suicide-resistant room’ that doesn’t have obvious ligature points, places you can hang yourself, things you can use to hurt yourself with,” he said. “(And it) emphasizes the need for supervision, watching somebody and monitoring them and doing so meaningfully.”
The Louisville police investigation into Troutman’s death concluded there was no “foul play” on the part of anyone in the jail, and the case was closed and sent to Metro Corrections.
Metro Corrections has made changes since four Louisville inmates committed suicide in 2015, including reducing the number of inmates put in solitary cells, increasing the number of mental health workers at the jail, expanding the hours they work, creating a substance abuse coordinator position and adding more training for staff.
“We are becoming kind of a quasi-hospital here in the jail,” Bolton said. “I think we are doing really a very good job of meeting the need of these high-risk people. Unfortunately, sometimes bad things happen in jails.”
Preston Elrod, a professor in the School of Justice Studies at Eastern Kentucky University, praised LMPD for highlighting a possible problem, saying information regarding suicides rarely becomes public unless a lawsuit is filed.
And when those suits are settled – often with taxpayers footing the bill – the issue “goes away until it happens again and the systemic issue that is contributing to this is not addressed,” Elrod said.
Kentucky State Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, filed a bill this year that would create a panel to review fatalities in Kentucky’s correctional facilities. A similar bill failed to pass last year. Wayne did not return a phone message seeking comment.
For his part, Bolton said the jail has made important safety strides while dealing with rising mental and drug issues in a facility that is long out of date.
“In 2016, for the first time on record … we did not have one in-custody death,” Bolton said. “Now I think that’s a pretty remarkable statistic.”
Metro Corrections suicides since 2013:
Mahmoud Hindi – 2013
Laron Moore – 2014
Jonathan Wright – 2014
James Earl Ashby -- 2015
Charles Troutman -- 2015
Franklin Bolton – 2015
Mark Webb -- 2015
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