A 24-year-old inmate hanged himself Monday in a holding cell at Orleans Parish Prison, authorities said, raising fresh concerns about the safety and supervision of inmates at the jail.
The inmate, Ryan Miller, of Harvey, was found about 11:45 p.m. at the jail’s Templeman V facility with a telephone cord around his neck.
Deputies performed CPR on Miller, said Philip Stelly, a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office, but he was pronounced dead about half an hour later at Interim LSU Hospital.
Miller’s death comes as Sheriff Marlin Gusman has struggled to usher in a slew of court-ordered reforms at the jail. The plan, known as a federal consent decree, called for the Sheriff’s Office to drastically improve inmate conditions and, among other changes, train deputies in suicide prevention.
The suicide came as a shock to Miller’s mother, Pamela Miller, who said she had been in regular contact with her son and described him as “healthy and solid.” She said he seemed upbeat despite his incarceration, adding she believed he could have beaten the aggravated rape charges he faced.
Ryan Miller’s letters had been positive, she said, quoting from the Bible and encouraging her to remain strong even as she underwent chemotherapy. “He had no reason to hang himself,” she said.
Pamela Miller said deputies came to her home about 2 a.m. Tuesday to deliver the news. She said the deputies told her that her son had requested to leave his cell because he was feeling suicidal.
“They said they had moved him to another area to be on watch,” she said. “They said they put him in a room with a telephone, and that a deputy sheriff stepped out the room and, when he came back, he was hanging.”
Stelly said Ryan Miller had not been on suicide watch. He did not respond to a question about how the inmate had gained access to a telephone cord.
Ryan Miller had been jailed since May on charges of aggravated rape. Court documents show he confessed about a year ago to sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl, giving her alcohol and forcing her to perform oral sex.
He allegedly performed sex acts on the girl about 10 times over five months. Charges also had been filed against Miller in Jefferson Parish, where he moved in February 2014.
Forensic psychiatrists who evaluated Miller recommended he be found competent to stand trial, though they noted he had a learning disability.
A so-called mental status examination “failed to reveal evidence that Mr. Miller was manifesting any signs or symptoms of a major psychiatric disorder,” according to court documents.
Miller’s defense attorney, Bruce Netterville, said he also was shocked by the suicide. He said Miller had been a special education student and “very slow,” but that he never seemed depressed.
Miller’s death appeared to be the first suicide at Orleans Parish Prison since September 2013, when 28-year-old Clifton Morgan similarly asked to be removed from his assigned tier and was later found unresponsive in a holding cell across from the watch commanders’ office.
Morgan, who had been booked with simple burglary, had been sent to a psychiatric tier and put on suicide watch after his initial mental health screening. A lawsuit filed by his family last year claimed deputies deprived him of the medications he had been taking for three years.
Perhaps the most infamous suicide at the jail involved William Goetzee, a U.S. Coast Guard employee who took his life in 2011 by swallowing toilet paper. A deputy assigned to watch Goetzee later pleaded guilty to malfeasance in office.
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