The Charlotte County Jail houses fewer inmates on average than county jails in Sarasota, Manatee and Lee counties.
But it had more inmate suicides last year.
Less than a month later, a 25-year-old woman was found unresponsive in her cell with fabric around her neck. She died at the hospital five days later.
Then, less than 30 days after the woman’s death, a homeless man was found unresponsive, alone in his jail cell with a piece of fabric around his neck.
“It is inconceivable to have three suicides within two months,” said attorney Oscar Syger, who is representing the widow of a man who died by suicide in the Charlotte County Jail in 2016.
The Manatee County Jail, with an average daily population of 850 inmates, had no suicides in its jail last year. The DeSoto County Jail has an average population of 150 inmates per day, and also had no inmate suicides in 2020.
The Lee County Jail has an average daily population of 1,335 inmates. It said one inmate in its custody died by suicide in 2020.
The Sarasota County Jail had an average of 882 inmates a day last year. The agency said two of its inmates died by suicide last year.
The Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office, which runs the Charlotte County Jail, would not say what its average daily inmate count was in 2020. But Charlotte County Sheriff Bill Prummell, in September, said the jail population was around 500. A CCSO report from 2019 said the total jail average population was 641.
After the third inmate died by suicide on Dec. 26, Prummell posted a blog post addressing mental health protocols within the jail — but many questions remain unanswered.
CCSO would not respond to questions from The Daily Sun regarding inmate safety and suicide prevention.
At the Sarasota County Jail, which is run by the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, jail staff members have had debriefings after inmate suicides to determine possible ways to prevent the same scenario from occurring again, according to Maj. Brian Meinberg.
“A lot of times, it’s difficult as you can imagine,” Meinberg said. “But we have made changes facility-wide.”
After an inmate killed himself in the Sarasota County Jail about five years ago, the SCSO made a change immediately.
The inmate had threaded fabric through a ceiling vent and hanged himself from the vent, Meinberg said.
“We looked at that with the county, and the county immediately put a very fine mesh over those vents, and now no one can thread linens through there,” Meinberg told The Daily Sun. “Through the years, yes, if we’ve identified something that we can fix, we have.
“But again, the day-to-day processes are sound, and our staff ... are very well trained, very well equipped with crisis intervention training and our annual refresher training.”
The DeSoto County Jail gives different types of clothing and bedding to inmates who have been placed on suicide watch, according to Capt. Joshua Pitts.
The anti-suicide smock is a thick, green, jumper-style uniform designed to be rip-resistant, making it practically impossible to be ripped into a device that could be used as a noose. For inmates on suicide watch in the DeSoto jail, normal bedding is also replaced with a blanket that is made from the same thick material as the anti-suicide smocks.
In the Sarasota County Jail, inmates on suicide watch wear shorts instead of pants, because pants can be a strangulation risk.
If an inmate in the Sarasota County Jail is actively trying to harm him or herself, officers may give them the green anti-suicide smock in lieu of the regular jail clothing.
“We used to, probably about five years ago, give everyone that went to direct observation a green smock instead of the orange shorts and the shirt,” Meinberg said. “But we did a lot of research on it. We spoke to our medical provider at the time, and we felt by giving them the green smock, we were sort of … not perpetuating but sort of reinforcing the stigma as to why they were in there.”
CCSO did not answer questions regarding inmates’ clothing. But it can be seen in mugshots that some inmates are given green smocks.
Prummell said in his blog post addressing the recent suicides that “none had a history nor showed signs of self-harm.”
James Palmucci, the man who killed himself in the jail in October, had been accused of child molestation. He was arrested by CCSO on 83 charges of crimes against children — 81 of them felony charges. His bond was set at $1.4 million, and he was likely looking at life in prison.
Meinberg said that at the Sarasota County Jail, the types of charges that inmates are facing are factored into a scoring mechanism used to place inmates into different housing categories.
“Notoriety charges, or notable charges, such as high-profile cases and all those things, figure into the scoring checklist,” Meinberg said. “If they meet a certain threshold, and obviously if they say they’re suicidal, they will be sent to direct observation at that point.”
Pitts at the DeSoto County Jail said that the types of charges a detainee is facing will change their classification level. Inmates’ housing categories are subject to change while they are in custody as new sentencing may occur.
CCSO said, in Prummell’s blog post, that “each inmate is classified based on arrest history and crime, sex, as well as medical and mental health needs.
“Per Florida Model Jail Standards, depending upon their classification, they are then housed in a specific area and given direct observation, 15, 30, or 60-minute checks.”
This was not elaborated on.
The three inmates who died by suicide at the Charlotte County Jail recently were all found with fabric around their necks. It is unclear exactly how they executed their deaths.
Questions remain unanswered about suicide risk screenings, changes to policies following deaths, linens that are provided to inmates and housing classifications.