Orleans Parish Prison inmate on life support after suicide attempt _lowres

Earnest Smith

A New Orleans man allegedly tried to commit suicide at Orleans Parish Prison last week shortly after being arrested in connection with a string of Uptown armed robberies.

The Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office has not released any information about the case, which highlighted the continuing problems at the jail several weeks after a federal judge ordered that deputies receive additional suicide-awareness training.

However, Cmdr. Jeffrey Walls, of the New Orleans Police Department, said at a weekly briefing Wednesday that the inmate, Earnest Smith Jr., 26, had attempted to hang himself in the lockup.

Smith remained on a ventilator Wednesday afternoon and showed minimal brain activity, Walls said.

Smith, 26, was housed on a medical tier at OPP on June 10 when he tried to hang himself with some towels. Inmates were said to have discovered him in an unresponsive state, his eyes rolling back into his head. Deputies and medical staff responded and began CPR.

A day before the hanging attempt, court documents show, Smith appeared in Magistrate Court and learned his bail had been set at $350,000 on counts of attempted first-degree robbery and armed robbery.

Philip Stelly, an Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office spokesman, did not respond to repeated requests for comment. He told The New Orleans Advocate last week that he was not aware of any recent serious medical incidents involving an inmate.

Smith was booked June 8 on four counts of armed robbery, one count of attempted armed robbery and one count of possession of cocaine.

Police said he was responsible for armed robberies on May 26 at a Subway sandwich shop at 1332 S. Carrollton Ave. and May 30 at Sally Beauty Mart at 714 S. Carrollton.

His arrest came after police said he demanded a woman’s money about 2:45 a.m. June 8 on Bourbon Street, implying he had a gun. That robbery attempt was unsuccessful, police said, and he was apprehended shortly afterward.

Smith’s wife, Rayanica Smith, said he had not seemed to be suicidal before his arrest. She said she was told of the hanging incident on Monday, five days after it occurred.

“I just have a lot of questions right now,” she said. “My main concern right now is his well-being.”

The attempted suicide came less than three months after another inmate, 24-year-old Ryan Miller, hanged himself with a telephone cord and later died at a hospital. The death of Miller, a Harvey man awaiting trial on rape charges, came after he told jail officials he had been feeling suicidal. The Sheriff’s Office has not explained why he was subsequently moved to an attorney visitation room.

Orleans Parish Prison, which remains subject to a federally monitored reform plan, has seen several suicides in recent years, including the death of Clifton Morgan, a 28-year-old who had asked to be removed from his tier and was later found unresponsive across from a watch commander’s office.

In 2011, William Goetzee, a U.S. Coast Guard employee, took his life at the jail by swallowing toilet paper — a case that drew widespread attention to conditions at the jail.

Earlier this spring, U.S. District Judge Lance Africk signed an order requiring Sheriff Marlin Gusman to retrain his deputies on how to spot and respond to inmates who appear to be suicidal.

The training was requested by the U.S. Department of Justice and the MacArthur Justice Center, which are representing the city’s inmates in a landmark class-action lawsuit against the sheriff over the jail’s conditions.

Follow Matt Sledge on Twitter, @mgsledge. Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.