Jaquin Thomas, 15

Jaquin Thomas, 15

Photo provided by Martin Regan

Preliminary autopsy results show that a 15-year-old died in the Orleans Parish jail Monday night by hanging himself, the Orleans Parish coroner said Wednesday.

“Regarding the death of Jaquin Thomas, preliminary autopsy results reveal that the cause of death was asphyxia by hanging, with no evidence of recent assault. The manner of death has been preliminarily classified as suicide,” Dr. Jeffrey Rouse said in a statement.

Investigators from the Orleans Parish District Attorney's Office and the Sheriff's Office were present for the autopsy, Rouse said. Thomas' family declined to send an independent pathologist.

Despite his age, Thomas had been in the adult jail since July 28 on counts of second-degree murder and aggravated burglary. Police have accused him of taking part in the killing of a 24-year-old man in a New Orleans East apartment on July 21.

Rouse’s finding that there was no evidence of recent assault may be significant, because one of Thomas’ defense attorneys has said the youth was attacked inside the jail about a month before his death.

Andrew Bevinetto, the lawyer, said Thomas suffered facial swelling and rib bruising after he was attacked by more than one person inside the jail. He was taken to University Medical Center for treatment, according to the lawyer.

Bevinetto said he met with his client to speak about that incident after Thomas' cousin became alarmed that Thomas had missed one of their regular phone calls.

"He was kind of reluctant to talk to us about the incident. That’s kind of how it goes in there," Bevinetto said.

Bevinetto said an attorney for the Sheriff’s Office told him that Thomas would be kept separated from the other inmates involved in the incident, which was caught on video.

His last met with his client about 10 days before Thomas’ death, Bevinetto said.

The meeting, Bevinetto said, had “nothing to do with the incident in which he was jumped. That was kind of in the rear view. … He seemed to be in good spirits.”

Philip Stelly, a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office, said Wednesday that he had no information on the assault incident, including whether any arrests were made. Stelly said he did not know whether Thomas was being kept separated from the others involved in the incident.

“Generally speaking … if there is an attack, then there’s an effort to keep those combatants separate,” Stelly said.

A second City Council member, meanwhile, added his voice Wednesday to the chorus of outrage over Thomas' death, following a statement the day before from Councilwoman Susan Guidry.

"As a city, we should all be deeply saddened by the news that 15-year-old Jaquin Thomas committed suicide Monday night while being detained pre-trial in the Orleans Parish jail," Councilman Jason Williams said in a statement. "This child spent months in our adult facility. I hope my fellow residents will join me in sending thoughts and prayers to Jaquin’s family during this extremely difficult time. As a father, I can’t imagine the deep sense of loss his parents must be feeling."

Thomas' suicide came in the midst of a tumultuous week for the Sheriff's Office, which has seen two deputies arrested in separate incidents and the escape of an inmate. All of those embarrassments highlighted the challenges facing the jail's new court-ordered administrator, Gary Maynard, who began work Oct. 3.

Maynard declined to comment on Thomas' death through Stelly, the spokesman.

Sheriff's Office Lt. TaRaunce Martin was arrested Sunday night on a count of domestic abuse battery involving strangulation after an incident at his home involving his girlfriend. Three-year veteran Deputy Jean Orphee was arrested the next day on counts of simple battery and malfeasance in office on an allegation that he pepper-sprayed an inmate for spitting on him.

Both deputies have been suspended without pay, Stelly said. 

Finally, on Tuesday afternoon an inmate escaped by walking out of Municipal Court, the second time that has happened this year.

The Sheriff's Office said a deputy noticed a jail jumpsuit and slippers on the floor about 1 p.m. Deputies then realized that Terrance Jacques, 25, was missing. He was being held on counts of illegal possession of stolen property and criminal trespass.

Jacques surrendered to Sheriff's Office deputies at noon Wednesday and was rebooked on simple escape, Stelly said.

Jacques' escape bears striking similarities to the February escape of Lionel Trumble, who also walked out of Municipal Court while facing charges for illegal possession of stolen things. He was rearrested the next month.

Follow Matt Sledge on Twitter, @mgsledge.

msledge@theadvocate.com | (504) 636-7432