A New Orleans inmate who tried to hang himself in his cell earlier this month died of his injuries Saturday, the latest in a series of deaths inside the Orleans Justice Center that have raised alarms from watchdogs.
Meanwhile, the family of a 15-year-old inmate who killed himself in the jail in October filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office on Friday, alleging that his death was part of a larger pattern of indifference to inmates’ welfare.
The latest inmate death was that of Jamaine Johnson, a 23-year-old who had been in custody at the jail since his arrest in September on drug and weapon charges.
The Sheriff’s Office said that Johnson was face-to-face with deputies when he tried to hang himself in his cell on the night of May 11.
Medics took Johnson, who suffered serious injuries, to University Medical Center. He died there about noon Saturday, according to the Sheriff’s Office. The office said in a statement that it “extends its condolences to his family.”
However, an inmate advocacy group said that Johnson’s death raised serious questions about suicide precautions inside the jail — especially in light of the October death of Jaquin Thomas on the jail’s youth tier.
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Emily Washington, an attorney for the MacArthur Justice Center, has said that Johnson had previously expressed suicidal thoughts on the night he tried to hang himself. She said she could not understand how Johnson was able to try to kill himself when four deputies were on duty inside his assigned tier, a special disciplinary unit.
“Make no mistake — this death happened on OPSO’s watch, just like too many before." Washington said in a statement. "This young man’s family and the public are owed an immediate and thorough explanation as to how Jamaine was allowed to hang himself while multiple OPSO deputies stood by. This wasn’t a matter of staffing. This was a failure by OPSO to take seriously its responsibility to care for those persons in its custody.”
An attorney for Johnson's mother, Dionne Johnson, also expressed outrage over his death.
"It's my understanding that he told them he was going to kill himself. They did not take heed to that," Willard Brown said. "He should have been on suicide watch, and that would have prevented his tragic death."
Brown said that Johnson's mother is "totally destroyed" by his death, "like someone ripped her heart out." The family is considering a lawsuit, Brown added.
The Sheriff’s Office promised a full investigation of Johnson’s death and a “critical incident review,” which is supposed to inquire into any administrative oversights or lapses.
The day before Johnson died, the family of Jaquin Thomas filed a lawsuit in Civil District Court against the city, the state, Sheriff Marlin Gusman, jail administrator Gary Maynard, Mayor Mitch Landrieu and District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro.
Thomas hanged himself inside his cell in the jail’s youth tier in October. The 15-year-old had been awaiting trial in connection with a July 2016 killing inside a New Orleans East apartment complex.
Keriana Alexcee, who was the sole deputy on duty in the youth tier at the time, is also named as a defendant. The Sheriff’s Office has booked her on malfeasance in office, alleging that she neglected her duty by leaving the youth tier unattended during the 90 minutes Thomas swung from a handmade noose in his cell.
The Thomas family's suit alleges that all the defendants failed to protect the youth from harm through “deliberate indifference.”
It also claims that the criminal justice system erred in failing to provide Thomas with a hearing to challenge his transfer to the adult jail from the Youth Study Center, which houses most juveniles in New Orleans.
The suit seeks monetary damages as well as an order “restraining defendants from further violating others’ due process rights.”
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“It’s the family’s position that they truly wish to see systemic change so Jaquin is not merely a statistic,” said Galen Hair, who is representing the family in their civil suit. “They have expressed many, many times that they hope that Jaquin’s death will be a lesson and will be something that can be used to ultimately stop the future deaths of children that do not receive due process and are forced into these conditions.”
City Councilwoman Susan Guidry said at a May 11 hearing that the system by which youths are transferred from the Youth Study Center to the adult jail has been reformed since Thomas’ death, so that in the future youths will be held in the juvenile jail by default.
The Thomas family lawsuit also seeks a copy of a suicide note that he purportedly left in his cell.
An Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office deputy who failed to notice for 90 minutes that a 15-year…