Sheriff Darr: No outside agencies needed for investigation into inmate deaths

tstevens@ledger-enquirer.comOctober 30, 2013 

Muscogee County Sheriff John Darr

JOE PAULL — jpaull@ledger-enquirer.com

Muscogee County Sheriff John T. Darr says he doesn't mind outside agencies assisting with internal investigations — but in the recent deaths of inmates Lori Carroll and Maurice Grier, such measures aren't needed.

Darr, who spoke briefly about the death of the two inmates during an unrelated press conference Wednesday, said he is confident in the prowess of his department's investigators.

"We haven't reached the point where we need any outside assistance, yet," Darr said. "I feel very confident in the people who are doing the investigation right. There are a lot of people who have a lot of years of experience. After we've done that, if we feel like we need an outside agency to come in, we're going to do that."

While the lack of investigation by an outside agency may raise transparency issues for some, Darr said a professional department should have no issues conducting the inquiry.

"I know people in the community might hear that and rush to judgment, but we take the welfare of our inmates very seriously. We've done that for the five years I've been sheriff."

In less than a week, two inmates housed with Muscogee County Jail have died.

The latest inmate — 21-year-old Maurice Grier — died Tuesday night of a brain aneurysm. No foul play is suspected, Coroner Buddy Bryan said.

Jailed in July on sundry charges, including aggravated assault and burglary, Grier was rushed to the Midtown Medical Center at about 12:50 a.m. after he complained that his head hurt and he was having trouble breathing.

"We had a young man in our custody who had some medical issues," Darr said Wednesday. "Unfortunately, while he was at the hospital he passed away. Now it's time to let people find out exactly what the cause of that was."

The inmate's mother, Conswelar Ingram, said a doctor told her that her son was dead before they moved him from the jail. She has learned that her son was in a fight with an inmate bigger than him last week and was somehow thrown on his head.

Darr said he is unaware whether Grier was in a fight. However, every inmate who is involved in a fight is examined by a doctor, he said.

"Basically, our practice is that if you get into a fight, most likely you're going to be seen by a clinic," Darr said. "Is that going to be an every time thing? I'm sure I would be remiss in saying that. But believe me, when you're in a fight, there are going to be injuries."

As for whether an inmate would receive CAT scan in the case of head injuries during fights, Darr said that would most likely depend on whether they complained.

"As far as we know, he hadn't been complaining about anything up until that night," he said. "If you sent everyone in for a CAT scan, it would get expensive quick."

Lori Carroll, 46, was found unresponsive in her cell at about 5 a.m. on October 24, and pronounced dead 40 minutes later. According to the Muscogee County Coroner's Office, Carroll had wounds to her face, broken ribs and a punctured lung. Her cause of death has not been released.

In prior statements to the Ledger-Enquirer, Bryan said that jail personnel told him Carroll had been banging her head against the concrete and blood had to be cleaned up twice prior to her death.

Carroll was initially booked into jail on a disorderly while intoxicated charge, one of several petty offenses she incurred since 2007. She allegedly had mental health issues, although no diagnosis has been released.

A Columbus Police report from her last arrest states she was near Fox Elementary Oct. 22 at about 8:30 a.m., "randomly opening occupied vehicles' doors." She also repeatedly entered a private yard and demanded the resident call "David."

Carroll allegedly admitted to "being on prescription drugs like Xanax" to the officer, but it is unclear whether she took any medication the night of her arrest.

Darr restated during Wednesday's press conference that people with mental illnesses should not be housed in the county jail.

"You do have individuals, in our jail and throughout the state of Georgia, and throughout this country, who don't need to be in the jail," he said. "They need to be getting round the clock, professional care. But in our case, the mental health care you get at the Muscogee County Jail, I would stack up against any jail in the Southeast. We do a very good job."

He said some precautions were taken because of Carroll's previous history with the jail, such as placing her on stricter monitoring.

"It's still up to the mental health professionals that we have at the jail," Darr said. "But Ms. Carroll, from the time she was in the jail to the time of her untimely death, she was under very close observation. Not constant, but almost constant."

That observation, Darr said, was carried out by deputies peering through a glass window into her cell periodically. He could not say how frequently she was checked on.

While the Sheriff's Office is not at this time looking to involve other agencies in the two investigations, Darr said they may reach out to the U.S. Attorney's Office to ask a few questions. Those questions weren't specified.

"People are rushing to judgment, thinking we did this," Darr said. "Muscogee County Sheriff's Office did not hurt this woman. It's an unfortunate incident."

Related stories:

Female inmate found dead in Muscogee County Jail

Second Muscogee County Jail inmate dies in less than a week

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